Iceland's Pirate Party takes big lead in polls ahead of election next year

Policies include direct democracy, new banking structures and looser drug laws

A protest party in Iceland which advocates 35-hour working weeks, the loosening of drug regulation and a drastic rethink of copyright law is now comfortably the most popular political group in the country, according to new polling results.

The Pirate Party was founded by a group of activists, poets and hackers in 2012 as an extension of the international movement of the same name.

It managed to win three of the 63 seats in Iceland’s parliament, the Alþingi, at the last election in April 2013 – and is now polling at 37.8 per cent, a huge figure for the country’s fragmented political scene.

According to polling company MMR, it increases the party's lead on both current coalition parties, Independence and Progressive, which command just over 30 per cent combined.

Pirate Party in Iceland co-founder Birgitta Jonsdottir (Getty)

And while the group has been topping polls since April last year, the Pirate Party has never seemed nearer to the real prospect of taking power in the country, which was so decimated by the 2008 global economic crash.

The party is so radical that it does not even nominally have a leader, though former Wikileaks spokeswoman and now founding MP Birgitta Jonsdottir tends to speak for it in public.

Speaking about the Pirate Party’s recent surge in the polls, she has cited the government’s decision in March last year to abruptly withdraw from plans to join the EU as causing widespread dissatisfaction on the island.

But she told the Australian Financial Review: “I don't think there's any one explanation for our popularity. People are obviously tired of being promised the world ahead of elections, only to see political parties negotiate among themselves and back away from their promises.”

Ms Jonsdottir has said in Icelandic media interviews that the party stands for more than just its vague founding ideals based on fostering creativity and better education.

She told the Reykjavik Grapevine late last year that the group wants to see banks completely separate their investment and commercial arms, accusing the coalition of “leading us into a new financial danger zone with the same old banking structures”.

The group also advocates a new form of direct democracy to “build bridges between the general public and those they trust to serve them”, though the exact mechanism of that remains unclear.

And the Pirate Party is also realistic that its huge popularity in the polls may not equate to trust from voters when it comes to the next parliamentary election in 2017. 

“That’s too optimistic,” Birgitta told AFR. “But our support has forced other parties to take a closer look at themselves.”