Icelanders vote for stability as Pirates fall short of expectations

Icelanders opted for stability in a general election, results showed on Sunday, with the anti-establishment Pirate Party falling short of expectations and the junior partner in the outgoing government emerging on top.

With voters still angered by the 2008 financial crisis and the naming of several government figures in an offshore tax haven scandal this year, Icelanders looked to oust the centre-right coalition in its current form.

The biggest group, the Progressive Party, lost more than half its share of the vote in Saturday’s election after Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned following revelations in the “Panama Papers” scandal.

But the Pirate Party, founded by a group of internet activists, failed to perform as well as opinion polls had indicated. While its share of the vote tripled from the last election in 2013, it came in only third with 15 per cent.

Instead, voters appeared to have recognized efforts to stabilize the economy after its 2008 collapse.

The centre-right Independence Party, which shared power in the outgoing government, won the largest share of the vote with 29 per cent.

The party said it would try to form the country’s next government in what are expected to be complex negotiations.

“We have the most support … So I’d say yes,” Bjarni Benediktsson told Reuters when asked whether he considered his party to be the winner.

He said he would prefer to form a three-party coalition, but declined to say with whom.

President Gudni Johannesson has yet to officially hand the mandate to the party that will be tasked with forming the next government. Current Prime Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson of the Progressive Party told Reuters he would meet with the president later today and said it would be “natural” for the President to look to The Independence Party.

Poet Birgitta Jonsdottir, who leads the Pirate Party, told Reuters she was happy with the result.

“Our internal predictions showed 10 to 15 per cent, so this is at the top of the range. We knew that we would never get 30 per cent,” she said.

Supporters of the broader pirate movement from 15 countries, along with ex-campaign workers for former U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, had visited Reykjavik to back the Icelandic party, hoping that it would have a shot at forming the next government and deal another blow to mainstream politicians.

Both the Independence Party and the Pirate Party, whose founders call themselves “hacktivists”, have so far ruled out working together, though this could change during negotiations in the days to come.

The Left-Greens came second with 16 per cent.

Messy coalition

Benediktsson’s party has promised to lower taxes and keep the economic recovery on track.

Fuelled by a tourism boom, economic growth has recovered since the banking crisis and is expected to hit 4.3 per cent this year. In a tight race, the newly-established Vidreisn, or Reform Party, could become kingmaker.

The pro-European, liberal party which won around 10 per cent of votes in its first election has not yet taken sides.

The senior coalition partner in the outgoing government, the Progressive Party, saw its support dive to 11.5 per cent. It was hurt badly when Gunnlaugsson resigned as prime minister in April after documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm linked him to an offshore company that held millions of dollars in debt from failed Icelandic banks.

The Independence Party will hold 21 seats in the 63 member parliament, up two. Representation by the Left-Green Movement rose three to 10 seats, while the Pirate Party has gained seven to 10 seats.

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