Iceland votes in snap polls after Panama Papers scandal

Determined to put the Panama Papers scandal and the 2008 bankruptcy behind them, Icelanders will vote on Saturday in a snap election that could see the anti-establishment Pirate Party form a new centre-left coalition.

AFP| Updated: Oct 29, 2016, 09:12 AM IST

Reykjavik: Determined to put the Panama Papers scandal and the 2008 bankruptcy behind them, Icelanders will vote on Saturday in a snap election that could see the anti-establishment Pirate Party form a new centre-left coalition.

Voters are expected to punish the incumbent government after the Panama Papers revealed a global tax evasion scandal that ensnared several senior politicians and forced former prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson to resign.

Although the current government of the conservative Independence Party and the centrist Progressive Party survived the scandal, it promised a snap election six months before the end of its term in spring 2017.

"We`re loosing support (because of the) big anti-establishment (feeling)," Birgir Armannsson, member of parliament for the Independence Party, told AFP.

The Pirate Party -- founded in 2012 by activists, anarchists and former hackers -- campaigns for public transparency, institutional reform, individual freedoms, and the fight against corruption.

It draws much of its support from younger voters and spokeswoman Birgitta Jonsdottir says it has also "studied the mistakes of Syriza and Podemos", leftist parties in Greece and Spain that tapped into anger about austerity cuts imposed during the eurozone debt crisis.

The results will be known shortly after polling stations close but because no party is expected to have a majority Iceland`s fate will only be known after coalition negotiations.

If the Pirate Party does well, it could form the nation`s second centre-left government since Iceland`s independence from Denmark in 1944. The Social Democrats and Greens ruled in a coalition between 2009-2014.

In any negotiations to form a government, the Pirate Party is expected to have leverage over the outgoing Independence Party and the leftist Green movement could for the first time hold the balance of power.

Co-founded by former WikiLeaks spokeswoman Jonsdottir, the Pirate Party has reached a pre-election agreement with three other leftist and centrist opposition parties, including the Left-Greens, the Social Democrats and the Bright Future Movement, to form a coalition government.

Together, they could have more than 50 percent of the votes, according to the latest polls, which also show a high proportion of undecided voters.

"We think that these parties can cooperate very well, they have many common issues. I think it will be a very feasible governmental choice," Katrin Jakobsdottir, leader of the Left-Green movement told AFP.Although Iceland, a volcanic island with a population of 332,000 people, has returned to prosperity since its 2008 financial meltdown with GDP growth expected to be above four percent this year due to tourism and the recovery of its financial system, the nation`s youth distrusts the political elite.

The crisis saw Iceland`s three biggest banks and its oversized financial sector collapse.

The nation was plunged into a devastating economic crisis and forced to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

A string of bankers were jailed, the failed banks were temporarily nationalised and then sold and foreign investors had to accept write-downs on their debt holdings.

Olafur Hardarson, professor of political science at the University of Iceland, attributed the Pirates` rise in popularity to voters` anger at the 2008 collapse.

"They have managed to focus on the anti-politics and anti-establishment feelings of a lot of voters that have been frustrated in Iceland since the bank crash," Hardarson told AFP.

Voter Einar Hannesson, a 42-year-old labourer, said he would be voting for the Pirates because they offered change.

"I want change. I don`t like everything that the Pirates are proposing, but if we want change, it`s the best party," he said.