Initial counting after polls closed in Iceland’s election put neither the ruling Independence party’s centre-right coalition nor the Pirate party’s leftist alliance in a position to secure outright victory.
With roughly one-third of votes counted, support for the mainstream centre-right coalition – particularly Independence – stood at more than 40%, translating to 27 MPs in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament.
The opposition alliance had around 43%, giving 29 MPs.
That could leave the newly-established Viðreisn – meaning Regeneration – party in the role of kingmaker. Its share of the vote sat at around 11% in early counting. Its liberal, pro-European stance has proved popular among conservative voters seeking a change from the old parties. “We want to improve things in Iceland,” the party leader, Benedikt Johannesson, said as he cast his ballot. “We are a free trade party, a pro-western party, an open society party.”
Polls published on Friday before the election showed the governing coalition of the Independence and Progressive parties on about 37% of the vote, while support for opposition parties led by the Pirates – founded barely four years ago by a group of activists, anarchists and former hackers – stood at 47%.
Riding a wave of public anger at perceived political corruption in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and the Panama Papers scandal in April, the Pirate party has campaigned for direct democracy, full government transparency, individual freedoms and the fight against corruption.
Its radical platform – which also includes decriminalising drugs, offering asylum to whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and relaxing restrictions on the use of the bitcoin virtual currency – propelled it to 40% in the polls this spring but its support has since waned.
Voting at a Reykjavik school on a chill, blustery day, the party’s figurehead, 49-year-old MP, poet and former WikiLeaks collaborator Birgitta Jónsdóttir, said that if the people were ready the Pirates were too.
Her party would deliver change “if people are sick of living in this turmoil that we have been having here in Iceland, where you never know what tomorrow is going to bring”.
“Change is beautiful. There’s nothing to worry about. We are ready to do whatever people trust us to do.”
Part of a global anti-establishment trend, the Pirates advocate an “unlimited right” for citizens to be involved in political decision-making, proposing new legislation and deciding on it in national referendums.
If it is able the party has said it aims to form a new coalition government with the three other broadly leftist opposition parties: the Left-Greens, Social Democrats and the Bright Future movement.
“We think that these parties can cooperate very well, they have many common issues,” said Katríin Jakobsdóttir, leader of the Left-Green movement. “I think it will be a very feasible governmental choice.”
The Pirates have ruled out going into government with either of the current two ruling parties.
The elections were prompted by the resignation of Iceland’s Progressive prime minister, Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson, who became the first major casualty of the Panama Papers in April after the leaked legal documents revealed he and his wife had millions stashed offshore.
The revelations sparked outrage and some of the largest protests Iceland has seen, forcing the government to replace Gunnlaugsson with the agriculture and fisheries minister, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, and promise elections before the end of the year.
Support for Gunnlaugsson’s Progressive party has since fallen to about 9% in the polls, barely a third of its score in the previous 2013 elections. Backing for the Independence party seems to have held up far better, especially among older voters.
Ólafur Harðarson, a professor of political science at the University of Iceland, said the Pirates – who captured 5% of the vote in 2013, giving them three MPs – rose on the back of voters’ anger at the 2008 financial 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,” Harðarson said.
Iceland has recovered economically since the 2008 crash when the country’s three biggest banks collapsed owing 11 times the country’s GDP, the Reykjavík’s stock market fell 97% and the value of the krona halved.
Helped by a tourism boom – 2.4 million visitors, nearly seven times the country’s population, are expected in 2017 – economic growth is forecast to reach 4.3% this year and unemployment has fallen to just over 3%.
About 245,000 Icelanders were eligible to vote, with final results due on Sunday morning.