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Iceland’s Pirate Party set to make gains in parliamentary vote

Halldor Kolbeins, AFP | Birgitta Jonsdottir of Iceland's Pirate Party attends a debate in the capital Reykjavik on October 24, 2016.

Icelanders defied strong winds and rain on Saturday to vote in a parliamentary election with polls showing the opposition led by the anti-establishment Pirate Party could topple the ruling centre-right coalition.

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Icelanders’ faith in their political and financial establishment was shaken after the 2008 financial crisis and further eroded this year when several senior government figures were named in the Panama Papers.

The biggest protests in the country’s history ultimately led to the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of the Progressive Party and the early election this weekend.

"I voted the Pirates this time because I want change. I'm tired of all this mess," George Jonasson, 49 and unemployed, told Reuters after casting his ballot at the Laugalaekjar school.

Founded by internet activists and led by poet Birgitta Jonsdottir, the Pirates promise to clean up corruption, look at granting asylum to former U.S. spy contractor Edward Snowden and relax restrictions on the use of the bitcoin virtual currency.

"Change is beautiful, there is nothing to worry about... We can sense that the times are a-changing," said Jonsdottir after casting her vote, quoting American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan's anthem of civil rights and Vietnam War protests.

"If it's naive to listen to people, then so be it. We'd rather be naive than corrupt, and the Icelandic people are very sick of the nepotism and corruption," she said.

Polls were due to close at 2200 GMT, with first results expected soon afterward, though bad weather could delay matters.

Pre-election polls showed the Independence and Progressive parties stood to lose their current majority in the Althing, often described as the world's oldest parliament, which means they would have to find a third coalition partner to stay in power.

The Pirates would be looking to form a majority with the current opposition parties: The Left-Green Movement, the Social Democratic Alliance and Bright Future.

An Oct. 27 poll conducted by Visir and Stod 2 showed 37 percent support for the government parties, while the four opposition parties polled around 47 percent combined.

In a tight race, newly-established Vidreisn, the Reform Party, could become king-maker. The pro-European, liberal Vidreisn has not taken sides yet, but some analysts predict it would favour the current government as its economic policy leans rightwards.

While the Independence Party remains the biggest party, support for the Pirates has been steady at around 20 percent over the past months, well above the 5 percent it won in the 2013 election but below a 40 percent peak.

The current government parties point to their own success in reviving the economy. Fuelled by a tourism boom, Iceland has recovered from its 2008 banking collapse and economic growth this year is expected to hit 4.3 percent.

Parties on both sides have vowed to make no major changes to the ongoing lifting of remaining capital restrictions imposed after the financial crisis.

Turnout in Iceland is normally high at about 80 percent, but as in most countries, young voters are less likely to cast their ballots, which could hit support for the Pirates.

(REUTERS)

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