Saturday

24th Feb 2024

Analysis

Iceland's not-so-quiet revolution

  • Protests were once limited to the fringe element. Not any more. (Photo: Art Bicnick)

If the predictions are to be believed, a key player in Iceland's next government will be a movement whose main platform is a campaign for internet freedom, capping a total transformation of the country's political system over just three years.

The Pirate Party – which also wants a new constitution and more direct democracy – seems likely to get around 20 percent of the vote in Saturday's (29 October) general election under the leadership of poet and activist Birgitta Jonsdottir. And two other recently formed parties are predicted to account for another 15-17 percent.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The shift has been swift and dramatic.

Iceland's four main parties have usually accounted for 90 percent of the vote in general elections. In 2013, their share fell to 75 percent. On Saturday, they face a completely new reality. According to polls, they will get just 55 percent.

All in all, a record 12 parties are in the running, up from five or six. Seven are expected to get representation, also a record It's safe to say that the times are changing.

Financial crash fallout

There are three main reasons for this swift change. The first, and most obvious one, is the financial meltdown of 2008.

When the economy crashed alongside the over-hyped and much inflated Icelandic banking system, public trust in core institutions, and especially its political structure, plummeted.

Despite a swift, and almost miraculous economic upturn during the last two governments – one a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Left-Greens, the other a coalition of the Independence Party and the Progressive Party – Icelanders' faith belief in the political system has not increased.

In December last year only 11 percent said they trusted the Parliament.

No more gatekeepers

The second reason is the information and technology revolutions that we are living through.

With the internet, smartphones and social media everybody that was willing became a part of the debate, which before was something that primarily belonged to a exclusive club of elites.

The gatekeepers that controlled the debate for decades did not control it any more. Everyone could participate and like-minded people could organise through social media platforms.

Icelanders began turning up in the thousands to protest in front of the Althingi when something was not to their liking.

And the protesters where not just radicals wanting to revolutionise the way Iceland is run. They were people from all layers of society that were fed up with nepotism, corruption and decision-making processes that did not include asking the people what they thought.

A prime ministerial scandal

Thirdly, there was the Panama papers scandal. It is the reason Icelanders are voting in October and not in April, when the current term was supposed to run out.

The papers revealed that 600 Icelanders had owned around 800 offshore companies that Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca had set up for them.

The decisive factor was that the leaders of the government were amongst those named.

Prime minister David Gunnlaugsson, from the Progressive Party, owned a company that had millions of euros of assets registered in the British Virgin Island.

He had not disclosed that he had owned the company in question, or that the company was a creditor in the estate of the failed Icelandic banks, which the government was working on resolving.

Furthermore, Gunnlaugsson lied in an interview when asked about the firm. He resigned on 6 April.

Both the leader and deputy leader of the Independence Party where also in the Panama Papers.

So the most likely outcome of the general election next weekend is that a four party centre-left government, that includes the Pirate Party, will come into power in Iceland.

But if the last few years have taught us anything it is that things can change quite dramatically in a very short period of time. Especially on the Icelandic political stage.

Panama Papers: Iceland PM half-resigns

Iceland PM to step aside, but only for "an unspecified amount of time”, as ruling coalition fights for survival following Panama Papers leak on offshore funds.

Iceland says final EU goodbye

Iceland has definitively dropped its EU membership bid, nearly six years after having made the demand.

EU states set to oppose tax transparency bid

A compromise text by the Slovak EU presidency is proposing to water down the commission's plans to allow public access to the names of those who own offshore accounts.

Iceland set to re-elect scandal-hit prime minister

The Left Green Movement was leading in polls until very recently - but now surveys suggest the Independence Party, historically Iceland's largest, will remain the lead party in government following Saturday's elections.

Stakeholder

Report: Nordics needs to step up the pace to achieve climate neutrality

Nordic countries have a long way to go if they're to reach their climate neutrality goals. According to a brand-new report, strengthened Nordic co-operation can help accelerate the transition. Nordic environment ministers agree that the pace must be stepped up.

Supported by

Latest News

  1. EU rewards Tusk's Poland on rule of law with €137bn
  2. UK-EU relations defrosting ahead of near-certain Labour win
  3. EU paid Russia €420-per-capita for fossil fuels since war began
  4. After two years of war, time to hit Putin's LNG exports
  5. Creating the conditions for just peace in Ukraine
  6. Energy and minerals disputes overshadow new EU-ACP pact
  7. Germany speeds up Georgia and Morocco asylum returns
  8. How Amazon lobbyists could be banned from EU Parliament

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us