Fearing the Pirate Party, Iceland's government scrambles to avoid elections

With Iceland's Prime Minister stepping down over revelations of his financial secrets, thanks to the Panama Papers, many assumed that elections couldn't be far behind — and if the recent polls could be relied upon, the Icelandic Pirate Party would form the next government.

But the former Prime Minister's "resignation" was a bizarre kind of stepping down: Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson is keeping his Parliamentary seat and he's also going to go on running his party, though his deputy will formally have the PM's title.

What's more, the Icelandic finance minister, Bjarni Benediktsson — who was also implicated in financial wrongdoing in the Panama Papers but has not resigned — has called Iceland's opposition "rubbish" and has vowed not to dissolve parliament or call an election.

The protests about the Prime Minister's role in the Panama Papers were arguably the largest demonstrations of any kind, in any country, ever (proportionately speaking). The Pirates have introduced a no-confidence vote for Friday'; if the popular resentment doesn't diffuse by then, it's hard to imagine how parliament can last — and if they are forced to step down, their defeat will be even more humiliating than a graceful exit might have been, and will have a longer-lasting effect on the party's political future.

The Pirates, along with three other opposition parties, introduced a motion of no confidence in the government Gunnlaugsson has left behind, to be debated on Friday. By then, popular anger is likely to have ratcheted up still further, following reports on Thursday that three bankers who were jailed last year for their part in the collapse of Iceland's Kaupthing bank in 2008 were granted early release, as the result of a new law passed by the current government.

With Iceland's Pirate Party Surging in the Polls, Its Government Resists New Elections
[Robert Mackey/The Intercept]