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Iceland Prime Minister resigns after Pirate Party’s electoral success

Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson steps down after losing seats to populist Pirates

Benjamin Kentish
Sunday 30 October 2016 17:30 GMT
Former Icelandic Prime Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson
Former Icelandic Prime Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson (Getty)

Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, the Icelandic Prime Minister, has resigned after his party lost votes to the Pirate Party in Saturday’s general election.

Mr Johannsson made the announcement on national television after his centre-right Progressive Party saw its vote share and number of parliamentary seats more than halved.

“This was in accordance with the constitution, to hand in my resignation and then be asked to stay in office until a new government has been formed,” Mr Johannsson told a news conference.

His party's electoral thumping came at the hands of the Pirate Party, whose populist, anti-establishment message has gained traction in recent months.

Polls had suggested the party was on course to win the election but it eventually finished second, behind the Independence Party that had formed part of Mr Johannsson’s coalition government.

The Pirate Party won 10 seats in the 63-seat parliament – up from the three it won at the 2013 general election – while the Independence Party finished with 21 seats. The governing Progressive Party won just eight seats, down from 19 in 2013.

The result means the ruling centre-right parties fell short of the overall majority needed to form a government, raising the prospect of a left-wing coalition including the Pirate Party. However, Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson is expected to first be given the opportunity to try to assemble a coalition.

Mr Johannsson had been Prime Minister since April, when his predescessor, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, was forced to quit after being implicated in a tax avoidance scandal revealed by the release of the Panama Papers.

Reports that Iceland’s political and financial elite had sheltered money in offshore accounts compounded public anger following the 2008 financial crisis, which led to a huge financial collapse in which many Icelanders lost money.

The Pirate Party was formed in 2012 to campaign against strict copyright laws.

It has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the past year, winning over Icelandic voters with promises to fight corruption, give voters a direct say over policy and decriminalise drugs. Accepting the bitcoin currency and granting asylum to US whistleblower Edward Snowden were among other policy pledges.

Despite her party falling short of expectations, Pirate Party leader Birgitta Jonsdottir said she was happy with the result.

“Whatever happens, we have created a wave of change in the Icelandic society,” she said. “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.”

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