Reykjavik: Icelandic Pirates Triple Result, But Not Largest Party

The Icelandic Pirate Party has made a record election. Early vote counts place Pirates at 14 percent, for nine ten seats of the 63-seat world’s oldest Parliament. As the victory party draws to a close and the results slowly finalize, it’s worth looking a little at what comes next.

Pirate Parties keep succeeding, although on a political timescale. It started out a little carefully with getting elected to the European Parliament from Sweden, then to multiple state parliaments in Germany, city councils all over Europe, the Czech Senate, and the Icelandic Parliament, all in a decade’s insanely hard volunteer work.

Today, as the victory party draws long into the night and as the Election Saturday becomes Celebration Sunday (and quite probably Interview-and-Media Sunday for a lot of people), it’s clear that the Pirate Party of Iceland has broken all previous election records, clocking in at 14% with about one-third of the votes counted at 01:00 on election night. (UPDATED to show final results; the Pirate Party is in shared second place with 10 seats out of the Icelandic Alþingi’s 63.)

Iceland parliament election results 2016

In the polls, it was a close race up until the very end whether the Pirate Party would become the largest party, but as we can see, that support doesn’t seem to have materialized – which by no means diminishes the feat of re-election and tripled support. Polls had been showing the Píratar as high as 42%, wiping the floor with the competition and being close to a solo majority, but polls are not the election.

It is absolutely crucial here to not measure this result in terms of expectations from earlier polls, but in terms of getting re-elected — which no pirate party has succeeded in before — and in terms of tripling support, reaching a new election highscore. Now that we’re at the election night, ignore the polls. This is the big thing that just happened.

With Pirate Parties in about 60 countries, we keep learning from each other. There’s no clear cut correct answer on how to change the world, no preset path to follow. We all learn by trial and error and learn from each other – somebody’s always in the lead, and others can learn from their experience. It used to be Sweden, then Germany; now, it is most definitely Iceland.

And as I said on the Berlin election victory night in 2011: Tomorrow, this is going to be in all the papers. Not just in Berliner Zeitung and Die Welt, but in the Wall Street Journal, the South China Morning Post, and the India Today. (I was wrong then. Not about the coverage, but about the time: the stories were breaking in world media during the victory party, and not holding off until tomorrow as I claimed. I expect the same thing to be happening right now.)

On the victory night of 2009, I said that this is the net generation starting to reclaim its civil liberties from stale, vested interests trying to prevent the future from taking place. The hard road was bumpier than expected, but that is most definitely what is happening.

So today, this is an Icelandic celebration. This is the Icelandic pirate volunteers’ victory, their hard work coming to fruition, and their night to celebrate. They have more than earned it. And the rest of the movement have everything to learn, while buying an Icelander a beer.

(I thought of wearing a custom made shirt with the text “I voted pirate before it was cool” printed on the back to this victory party, since pirates have now gone mainstream, but didn’t think of it in time. Plus, as Andy Carling pointed out, voting pirate was always cool.)


Background to early elections

The Icelandic Pirates are already in Parliament with three seats out of 63, which is what has allowed them to show their attitude to things in the past term, after the financial crisis of 2008, which hit Iceland hard. Unlike most (or all) countries, Iceland let its bankers carry the burden of their own downfall, not bailing them out but sending the bankers to prison instead. However, the ruling coalition at the time – led by the Independence Party – tried very hard to bail out the Icelandic bankers, but failed to find somebody willing to pay for it, leaving bankruptcy as the only remaining option.

When the Panama Papers burst earlier this year, and it turned out that the Prime Minister and the President had, or were connected to, offshore accounts that had profited nicely from the Icelandic banking collapse, the situation became politically impossible, they all stepped down, and called early elections. Not extremely early like half-term or anything like that, though — the elections are six months early on a four-year schedule; they would have been held in May 2017 otherwise.

It’s also worth mentioning what it means that Iceland has a proportional parliament: it means that there are more than two parties, lots more than two parties, and that these parties negotiate after the election to form a coalition that reaches more than 50% of the seats in the Icelandic Parliament, the Alþingi (the all-thing, “thing” being an Old English word for a time and place where you settled disputes – still present in some Scandinavian words like tingsrett, “thing-rights”, meaning the local District Court.)

In any case, this means that “winning” doesn’t necessarily mean becoming the largest party; you may be the largest party and still end up in opposition for the coming term.

Icelandic Althing (1280px)The Icelandic Alþingi, the world’s oldest parliament.

The next steps

What happens next is the coalition game. Seeing that you need at least three parties to form any majority coalition with the early results, pirates may end up in the governing coalition, and pirates may not. This is far too early to tell and it’s going to be weeks before the negotiations produce a new government.

We’ll see in a few weeks which plays out and which coalition succeeds in forming. Regardless, this result is enormously promising every bit of the way, not just for Iceland, but for civil liberties activists everywhere.

A “Switzerland of Bits”

This leaves the question of what this means for the future. Assuming the Icelandic Pirate Party gets into a position to set a significant amount of policy for Iceland, and where they have talked of creating a “Switzerland of Bits” in Iceland, what does that mean for the world?

As it turns out, it means a whole lot.

The current old-world regime depends on all countries cooperating and agreeing on various monopolies that hold back the Internet and civil liberties. For example, for the copyright monopoly to be effective, it really requires that every single country that is connected to the Internet cracks down ruthlessly on any civil liberty that happens to threaten the entertainment industry’s distribution monopoly.

It only takes one.

It only takes one country out of 196 to say “enough is enough” and kick the old dinosaurs out. There’s no reason a cartoon industry – Disney Corporation – should get to regulate the world’s most important infrastructure. Quite the reverse: I find the idea revolting.

And it only takes one country to say out loud that this cartoon industry’s regulation is bullshit for all the dominoes to start falling, and that is completely doable. For all the international agreements out there, there are well enough legislative precedents to allow all copying for private use from tomorrow onward, just to start somewhere.

The same principles go across the board for civil liberties as they apply to the Internet. It’s going to be real exciting, indeed – a “Switzerland of bits” is exactly what the world needs at this point, and it’s going to bring the old controlling world down and the new networked world in.

Like on New Year’s, sometimes it’s time to go to the bells and ring out the old, and ring in the new, with a smile on your face full of hopes and dreams. And even if the pirate party doesn’t get to make policy this time around, there’s a next election, and a next. This is a long term thing.

Birgitta, Jon Þor, Smári, Ásta, Finnur, Kári, Elsa, Halldór, Halldóra, Sigridur, Eva, Helgi, and everybody else, all the fantastic people – awesome, amazing work. But you knew that already. I am proud, as always, to call myself your colleague.

UPDATE: As of 1300, the pirate vote count stands at 14.5% and ten seats to the Alþingi; one more seat than the midnight tally. The article has been updated to reflect this.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.