- Title: Icelanders prepare to vote after PM steps down
- Date: 26th October 2016
- Summary: REYKJAVIK, ICELAND (OCTOBER 25, 2016) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) STUDENT, SKULI JON UNNARSSON, SAYING: "I guess health care, housing, the health care system and housing mainly, at the moment." REYKJAVIK, ICELAND (OCTOBER 26, 2016) (REUTERS) "THE PEARL" BUILDING IN BACKGROUND, CARS DRIVING PAST ON ROAD IN FOREGROUND WOMAN WALKING PAST BUS STOP, UNIVERSITY BUILDING IN BACKGROUND ROAD SIGN READING (Icelandic): "HOSPITAL" REYKJAVIK, ICELAND (OCTOBER 25, 2016) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) STUDENT, INGIBJORG EYTHORSDOTTIR, SAYING: "In my opinion what the parties really need to focus on is building up a new hospital and we need to take care of our welfare benefits because over the past few years we have been lacking and we've had a lot of cuts and it's really come down on society. And I think we really need to support minorities and the ones who have trouble making ends meet." REYKJAVIK, ICELAND (OCTOBER 26, 2016) (REUTERS) BUILDINGS IN CITY CENTRE HALLGRIMSKIRKJA CHURCH SPIRE IN BACKGROUND REYKJAVIK CITY HALL AND LAKE WITH SWANS REYKJAVIK, ICELAND (OCTOBER 25, 2016) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) STUDENT, HEIDA VIGDIS SIGFUSDOTTIR, SAYING: "And what is most important for me is equality and less corruption." REYKJAVIK, ICELAND (OCTOBER 26, 2016) (REUTERS) CARS ON BUSY ROAD WITH ELECTRONIC SIGN ON BUILDING SHOWING POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENTS
- Embargoed: 10th November 2016 13:11
- Keywords: election Panama papers prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson
- Location: REYKJAVIK, ICELAND
- City: REYKJAVIK, ICELAND
- Country: Iceland
- Topics: Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00355N6M2V
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Voters in Iceland are preparing to make their democratic choice on Saturday (October 29) in the general election.
The election was called for after prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of the centre-right Progressive Party resigned in the aftermath of the so-called Panama Papers leak earlier this year.
The leaked documents showed Gunnlaugsson's wife owned a firm with claims on Iceland's collapsed banks and sparked wide-spread protests, despite there being no suggestion they had acted illegally.
The protests, the largest the country had seen, were thought to be an extension of simmering anger over the 2008 financial crisis that hit the country.
Now, voters are faced with a different political landscape.
Among the choice they face is the Pirate Party which is doing well in the polls. The radical party promises to clean up corruption, grant asylum to Edward Snowden and accept the bitcoin virtual currency.
It seems to have found a formula that has eluded many anti-establishment groups across Europe and tempered polarising policies like relaxed copyright enforcement rules and drug decriminalisation with pledges of economic stability that have won confidence among voters.
This has allowed it to ride a wave of public anger at perceived corruption among the political elite in a country where a 2008 banking collapse hit thousands of savers and government figures have been mired in an offshore tax furore following the Panama Papers leak.
Political Science Professor Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, of the University of Iceland, said there was a paradox in the support of the Pirate Party and the issues that mattered most to voters.
"What's different in the present election is the paradox on the one hand you have the Pirate Party which seems to be heading for a great election with around 20 percent of the votes, aiming at radical system change but if you ask the voters about their interest in the election, it's pretty mundane. It's the health system, it's the elderly and disabled and housing so the paradox is that the loss of confidence in the traditional political forces has opened the way for pretty unconventional parties whereas the voters seem interested in pretty much the same things they are always interested in," he said.
He also said that because of Iceland's fragmented political landscape where coalition government is the norm, a period of political instability could follow the election.
"Icelandic elections don't produce one party majorities. Usually there is a preference among the political parties for two party majorities, no such majority is likely to come forth after the elections, so we are looking at three parties, four parties, possibly five parties, and possibly some of the combinations with very slim majorities in terms of number of parliamentarians behind the coalition so my guess is that we are heading for a period of instability with regard to government," Kristinsson said.
The Pirate Party has not set out a detailed plan, but has made clear it would not deviate far from current policies in the next government term.
As with its economic policies, the Pirate Party has not provided much detail on how it will clean up corruption, though it says it will allow fisheries quotas to be dictated by the market rather than the government, to prevent any cronyism.
The mainstream parties have pointed to their own success in rescuing the economy, and latched on to the Pirates' lack of policy detail.
Meanwhile, for many voters health care and housing are the most important election issues.
"I guess health care, housing, the health care system and housing mainly, at the moment," said student Skuli Jon Unnarsson who is undecided in choosing between the parties.
"In my opinion what the parties really need to focus on is building up a new hospital and we need to take care of our welfare benefits because over the past few years we have been lacking and we've had a lot of cuts and it's really come down on society and and I think we really need to support minorities and the ones that have trouble making ends meet," said Ingibjorg Eythorsdottir who said she would vote for a centre-left party.
And for Heida Vigdis Sigufsdottir, who is also undecided on how to vote, the most important issues were more equality and less corruption.
According to daily newspaper Frettabladid's latest opinion poll, the centre-right Independence party gets 25.1 percent and the Pirate Party 20.3 percent of the vote.
Polls open at 0900 GMT on Saturday (October29) and first results are expected shortly after polls close at 2200 GMT.
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