Panama Papers: Resignation of Iceland PM bolsters Pirate Party

Panama Papers: Resignation of Iceland PM bolsters Pirate Party

The release of the Panama Papers implicating the now former Icelandic Prime Minister in tax evasion has sent ripples across society. With his departure, Iceland is expected to endure both political disruption and the opportunity for a fresh start — in part from the bolstered prospects of the Pirate Party.

Iceland may a new Prime Minister, but the country’s political shifts are far from over. Following the resignation of PM Sigmundur David Dunnlaugsson, Progressive Party Deputy Chair Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson has ascended to leadership in a country largely dissatisfied with government.

Little change now, big change later

As the former Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Johannsson has stayed close to agricultural and environmental policy in his ministerial career. Prior to entering politics, he was a veterinarian and a farmer. Johannsson, in this new role, is unlikely to change the liberal-centrist course laid out by Gunnlaugsson. They are both members of Framsóknarflokkurin, the Progressive Party, and in government with Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn, the Independence Party, on a slim majority of 51% since 2013.

The next election — expedited from spring 2017 to fall 2016 following the Panama Paper crisis — is likely to bring about a rather different political landscape. According to recent polls, the Pirate Party stands to win 43% of the vote, a notably high share in the Icelandic multi-party system. The less than elegant handling of the Panama Papers leak has undoubtedly damaged the Progressive Party.

Conflicting messages had emerged concerning Gunnlaugsson’s resignation or leave of absence in the immediate aftermath of the leak. At first, he hoped to cling on to the post of PM by seeking dissolution of Parliament. After Iceland’s President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, refused this request, Gunnlaugsson eventually stepped down. Instead of presenting a decisive attitude, either maintaining innocence or admitting to guilt, Gunnlaugsson appeared confused and bewildered.

The early election in autumn may well become a slap in the face for the political establishment. The Pirate Party has polled over 30% of the vote consistently since April 2015. Meanwhile, support for the two governing parties has slid since the election in 2013. The Progressive Party achieved 24.4% of the vote in 2013, and now only 7.9% indicate to vote for them. The Independence Party won 27% of the vote then and now has dropped to a 21.6%. Together, the two governing parties are currently projected to attract less than a third of the vote.

The established left and social democratic parties, the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) and the Left Greens (Vinstrihreyfingin grænt framboð), have barely changed in popularity since the 2013-election result. They currently receive 10% and 11% respectively for the upcoming elections. The lack of broad enthusiasm elsewhere now leaves the unlikely Pirate Party as a potentially disruptive element in Icelandic politics.

Bolstered prospects for the Pirate Party

The Icelandic version of the Pirate Party is a corollary of the party by the same name that was founded in Sweden in 2006. Since then, the “International Pirate Party Movement” has spread. There are now Pirate Parties in more than 60 countries.

The Movement is rooted in the internet, and a large share of its platform is concerned with the privacy of individuals online. One key cause is that “civil liberties are respected both online and offline”, according to their manifesto.

The Pirates themselves are not expecting the actual election result to be quite as high as the polls would suggest, but it seems duly expected that they will gain more seats in government than the 3 they currently fill. With their share of political influence set to surge, the Pirate Party is a protest party worth recognizing — one which may start affecting the policies of the middle.

As an example, the Swedish Pirate Party has been recognized as the reason that decriminalization of file sharing became the cited stance among the parties on the Left since 2006. The “Pirate” policy platform, apart from reform of intellectual property rights, includes greater transparency in politics, more direct democracy, and a new drug policy inspired by Portugal, where drugs were decriminalized in 2001.

While the political agenda is important, perhaps more so is the fact that the Pirate Party has not been involved in governing before, and presents itself as a non-corrupt alternative to the political establishment. That kind of popular image is valuable, not least after events this week.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Mikala Sorenson

Mikala Sorensen is an Economist with regional expertise in Europe. She holds a first class honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of York and a Masters in Economics from the University of Copenhagen. Having interned at the Danish OECD-delegation in Paris and currently working at the Danish Ministry of Finance, she specialises in politics and macroeconomics. Analysis for GRI is an expression of her own views.