Pirate Party surge falls short as Icelanders back stability

(From left) Ottarr Proppe of Bright Future, Prime Minister Sigmurdur Ingi Johannsson of the Progressive Party, Benedikt Johannesson of the Reform Party, Finance Minister and Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson, Birgitta Jonsdottir of the Pirate Party, Oddny G. Hardardottir of the Social Democratic Alliance and Katrin Jakobsdottir of the Left-Green Movement take part in a debate ahead of parliamentary elections, October 28, 2016. — Reuters pic
(From left) Ottarr Proppe of Bright Future, Prime Minister Sigmurdur Ingi Johannsson of the Progressive Party, Benedikt Johannesson of the Reform Party, Finance Minister and Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson, Birgitta Jonsdottir of the Pirate Party, Oddny G. Hardardottir of the Social Democratic Alliance and Katrin Jakobsdottir of the Left-Green Movement take part in a debate ahead of parliamentary elections, October 28, 2016. — Reuters pic

REYKJAVIK, Oct 30 — The ruling Independence Party emerged as the winner in Iceland’s snap election, surviving a surge by the populist Pirate Party in a vote for stability as the nation emerges from eight years of economic turmoil.

The Independence Party rose to 30.3 per cent from 26.7 per cent in 2013, while coalition partner, the Progressive Party, slumped to 10.6 per cent from 24.4 per cent, according to a partial 35 per cent count. The Pirates jumped to 13.3 per cent from 5.1 per cent in 2013, but fell short of pre-election polling. The government and the opposition failed to gain a majority as new parties lured voters, setting the nation up for broad talks on how to form a government.

Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, who leads the Independence Party, gained followers by pointing to his success in steering an economy that is expanding at more than 4 per cent growth and driving down unemployment below 2 per cent. He has also largely dismantled capital controls that have been in place since 2008. The krona has gained 12 per cent against the euro this year.

If the results stand it’s “natural” that the Independence Party take charge in government talks, Benediktsson said in a party leader debate on RUV early today.

“I’m also thinking about the next election term and asking myself, what will the projects be?” he said. “Let’s not forget that we’re somewhere at the top of the economic curve right now — we’ve been increasing our quality of life over a relatively short period of time, but still everybody feels that it still falls a bit short.”

The government agreed in April to bring elections forward by six months after protesters hurling bananas and yogurt forced then Prime Minister and Progressive Party leader Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson to step down.

A new party, Revival, headed by defectors from the Independence Party, got 10 per cent of the vote. It could help the government form a new majority but wants a new referendum on whether to continue accession talks with the European Union, but the Independence Party opposes membership to the .

The Pirates´ surge had over the past months become a global story, as polls showed they could become the first populist movement to break into government amid a groundswell for anti-establishment parties across the western world. — Bloomberg