Elections in Iceland Liveblog: On The Head of a Pin

Saturday, October 28th: it’s election day here in Iceland. Always a Saturday, because what sort of country would schedule elections on a working day?  Seriously, people!  😉  Some background information:

1) Why elections now?

Our previous government was highly divided, with three parties — the right-isolationist Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn / xD), the right-internationalist party Renewal (Viðreisn / xC), and the left-internationalist splinter party Björt Framtíð (Bright Future / xA).  Björt Framtíð had been somewhat of a paraiah for joining with the two right-wing parties (although a leftist coalition would have taken five parties), particularly the highly corrupt Independence Party. They however felt they’d been offered a good deal and took them up on it.

It didn’t last. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the father of our prime minister, Bjarni Benediktsson (xD), wrote a letter of “restored honour” wiping the criminal record of a family friend who had been convicted of raping his daughter every day through most of her childhood. Bjarni, and soon the rest of the Independence Party, did their damndest to hide who wrote the letter from their coalition partners. Bright Future decided that they’d had enough, and broke the coalition.  An election was called.

2) So, the Independence Party is finally going down, right?

Nope!  They’re actually likely to be the biggest party coming out of this vote.  If you’re confused by this fact, don’t worry, we all are too. No matter what they do — no matter how many state assets they sell  to their friends at discount rates, no matter how much insider trading they do, no matter how much they hide their assets in offshore accounts, etc, etc, they always get 25-35% of the vote. 

Another “what on Earth?” this year is the resurrection of Sigmundur Davíð.  You may remember him as Iceland’s previous prime minister who went down as a result of the Panama Papers, where he was hiding banking asserts overseas after having campaigned as a foe of the bankers (the interview where he went down was hilarious). Kicked out of his party (Progress Party / Framsóknarflokkurinn / xB), he decided “I’m taking my voters and starting a new party!”  And now we have Miðflokkurinn.  The Progress Party used to be this hybrid “Agrarian populist / Nonsense party” — the latter aspect in reference to every year the party would propose a big policy that sums up as “We’re going to give everyone tons of money and Nobody Is Ever Going To Have To Pay For It, Not Evers!!!”  Now the “Nonsense” wing of the Progress Party appears to have flocked into Simmi’s “Miðflokkurinn” (Middle Party / xM), whose horse logo appears to have been stolen from Porsche and whose policy sheet is a hilariously bad powerpoint that looks like it was written late at night while drinking.

3) What parties are running this time?

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xV (Vinstri Grænir / Left Greens): Isolationist left party.  The largest of the left parties, but falling in the polls.



xD (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn / Independence Party): Isolationist right party; not religious right, just highly corrupt, economic right. An eternal part of the Icelandic political landscape, and generally in government in some role or another.

xS (Samfylkingin / Social Democrats): Internationalist left party. Rapidly growing, in part taking over from the collapse of Bright Future, whose reputation was damaged by their involvement in the last government.

xP (Píratar / Pirates): Techno-populist party, with a focus on direct democracy. Ostensibly avoids the “left-right” labeling, but on policies tends to fall well into the left side of the spectrum.

xM (Miðflokkurinn / Middle Party): Sigh…  Sigmundur Davíð’s new “Nonsense Party”.  This year’s “never-pay-for-it gimmie” — the government is going to give everyone shares in a bank that it doesn’t own. Nobody really wants to work with him, but some might (xD would gladly do so if they could keep power)

xB (Framsóknarflokkurunn / Progress Party): Hopefully will be reverting to its isolationist agrarian-populist roots now that xM has branched off.

xF (Flokkur Fólksins / Party of the People): Non-agrarian isolationalist party.  Rather progressive in most issues, but uncomfortably anti-immigrant.

xC (Viðreisn / Renewal): Internationalist split-off of the Independence Party. Still just as hard to the right on economic policy (cutbacks, privatization, etc), but pro-EU. Not as corrupt as the Independence Party, but willing to put up with corruption to achieve their goals. 

xA (Björt Framtíð / Bright Future): Former government coalition partner.  Leftist and internationalist, they probably won’t get a seat in parliament this time.,

4) What’s the outcome going to be?

It takes 32 seats to form a coalition government, and there’s a *lot* of parties this time dividing the vote. Here’s the likely seat count:

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A median distribution yields the following possibilities:

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I’ll go into more detail about the likelihood of the following later, and how it shifts through the night as the results come in; I need to get dressed and head to the Pirates’ election night party at Perlan.  I’ll keep up with regular updates throughout the evening!

Update: 19:55

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Amm… yeah… I’m home again.  Stupid me can’t read a clock, the party doesn’t start for another hour. The parrot and I will just have to wait  😉

(Yes, of course I’m bringing the parrot along… it is a Pirate Party, after all  😉  )

More info about the election in just a bit here.

Update: 20:22

So, while we’re waiting for the party to start and the election returns to begin, a bit more about the campaign.  This one was historic, and not in a good way.  Not even just the unknown but clearly extensive amounts of dark money flowing into anonymous campaign ads (which sadly are perfectly legal here).  Four times out of five that you go to Youtube for example, you get ads from anonymous groups like “Kosningar 2017” playing ads like “Who Let the Left Out” (to the tune of “Who Let The Dogs Out”, taking people out of context and portraying them all as secret communists.  No, no, the real issue this year was Iceland’s descent in Press Freedom. In the sort of thing you expect more out of North Korea than Europe, a county magistrate put a legal prohibition on the newspaper Stundin (who was working on conjunction with The Guardian) during the middle of a release of a series of explosive reports on prime minister Bjarni Benediktsson’s actions before the financial crash — of extensive insider trading, of hiding assets, of secret takeovers of companies with the cooperation of other well connected business magistrates, etc.  The grounds?  They were violating his private information.  I kid you not. 

Update: 20:30

So, one more update before I head out. As mentioned, the question is, what kind of coalition would we end up with?

Back when it looked like the left was going to get more seats, a Left Green — Social Democrats — Pirates coalition was the obvious winner. There was a lot of policy overlap, and it looks like they’d have the seats to do it.  Unfortunately, now they may be a couple seats short. The left really doesn’t want to work with The Middle Party and our disgraced former prime minister Sigmundur Davíð — even though there may be some sort of policy middle ground that could be reached.  They’d probably prefer to work with the Progress Party, but it’s not clear that the Progress Party would be up for a vote on renewed EU negotiations (the Left Greens don’t like the EU negotiations either, but they’re up for having a vote on it if it means a coalition with the Social Democrats).  Renewal is another possibly — but the combination of them wanting right-wing economic policies plus being pro-EU might make negotiations hard with the left’s big vote-holders, the Left Greens.

On the right side, Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn would clearly be the anchor of any coalition. They’ve disgraced themselves, but they’ll have too many seats to ignore. They’ll work with anyone but the Pirates to stay in power (the Pirates have the most stringent anti-corruption / anti-secrecy stance, so they’re like Kryptonite to each other), and would happily work with Sigmundur Davíð’s Middle Party.  But that’s not enough votes.  The Progress Party, having kicked Sigmundur Davíð out, isn’t exactly keen to be joining back up with him, even though a lot of his voters used to be theirs, so there’s some common policy potential.  Renewal would have to give up any hopes of restarting EU negotiations because none of the other right-wing parties would support them, but in turn they’d get that right-wing economic policy that they want.

Most likely we’re looking at four-party coalitions, which is unheard of. Negotiations will be long, and the resulting government probably unstable. We’ll have to see how the seats play out this evening.

-—

Okay, time for the birdie and I to get a bite to eat, and then off we go again!  🙂

Update 21:30

At the Pirates election night party. They're still just setting up.

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“Our Future” 

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Update 20:40

People are filtering in. Half take the time to stop and hold the parrot 😉  The main screen is on, tuned to the big election-night concert. Of course it's all just passing time until the returns come in. Chatted briefly with Smári McCarthy, the first seat candidate in Suðurland. We really need people like him in parliament; his last job was as part of an NGO, writing software to scour out hidden financial transfers from public data to expose corruption and the like.

Its weird that they have the concert on but the sound system is playing the radio, so we get disjoint effects like Valdimar singing a Gorillaz song  😉

Update 21:59

No votes counted yet but turnout is said to be higher than last year. Hopefully that means yoing people actually turned out. Turnout last year was 79%.

Update 22:23

Well, the children's vote is in, and at least they want the Pirates in charge! 25% for the Pirates. 

Update 22:31

First real votes in from Suðurkjördæmi. About 20% in, Pirates at 7,1%. Not terrible but not great. The People's Party got a surprising 10%. Suggestive that a liberal immigration policy might have to be sacrificed to get a left government, if they keep performing this well and the right doesn't manage to scrape together a coalition (the independence party will get the first chance). Independence party with 25,2%. Bright Future just 0,3%; really looks like the party is dead.

Update 22:58

New numbers from Norðausturkjördæmi (3000 of 29618)

Bright Future: 0,9

Progress Party 10,2

Xc 2,2

Xd 19,0

Xf 4,8 

Xm 15,9

XP 5,6%

Xr 0,3

Xs 16,3

Xv 20,8

Update 23:05

I can't keep up with realtime numbers. Will do my best with summaries hereout.7,2 and 10,2% for the pirates in two new returns. Flokkur Folksins is only gettinng a few percent each time. Miðflokkurinn keeps gerring around 15%  :Þ

Update 23:09

14% for the pirates in Reykjavíkur Norður so far – our first decent result (althought we still go down from 3 to 2 seats. But samfylkingin goes up 1 seat, taken from Bright Future. People's Party gets the other lost seat. (the way the vote is currently going)

Update 23:14:

Country as a whole looks like 5 seats pirates, 8 social dems, 11 left greens = 24, vs 32 needed. Largest non-Independence-party potential partners are the Progress Party with 6 and the Middle Party with 7. Not looking good from a coalition standpoint.  Then again, with so many parties, its hard for everyone. But the left is underperforming. Independence Party is 18.  renewal is 2. People's Party 4.

As the votes stand now.

Update 23:35:

Newest numbers: 6% pirates in North a rural area.  Left Greens got a disappointing 14% there. But only 15% counted.

Oh, new whole land projectedgraph: pirates up 1 seat (taken from the Independence Party), social dems and left greens unchanged – 6 + 8 + 11 = 25 of 32. 7 more needed.

If the left or The Progress Party could get one morïe vote, that might be a possible coalition partner (they're at 6 now). I just can't imagine the pirates working with Simmi's Middle Party to get their (currently 7) seats. 

Update 00:10

Reykjavíkur Norður: Pirates 12.6%, Samfylkingin 13,3, Left Grens 21,2%, 13529 votes counted. No change in seat estimates. Country as a whole is 20% in.

“Fun” fact: while it's not as bad as the electoral college,  not all votes are equal here either. The distribution of seats per Kjördæmi gives more power to rural voters. The rounding errors favour large parties. Basically, our system is seet up to favour the Independence and Progress parties.

Battery getting low  🙁

Update 00:22

Was reported that the Independence Party clawed back the fisputed seat with the pirates based on the current numbers.

Update 00:33

The tweets they've been showing on RÚV have been hilarious.  Recent examples :

“Me yesterday: Yeay, Democracy! Democracy is awesome! Me today: Boo! Democracy is for idiots!”

“Drinking contest: take a shot everytime they update numbers and it's still all a giant mess”

” Impossible to form a government.  Everyone's upset.  Maybe we should settle this with a crying contest.”

“Downside: disastrous results. Upside: more concerts with HAM” (the head of the now collapsed Bright Future is in a band named HAM)

Update 00:45

Battery almost dead, and the parrot and I are very tired. Will post an update tomorrow on the final counts and prospects for the future.

Update 18:13

Sorry for the huge delay on reporting the results.  I woke up with a terrible headache that pain medication wasn’t controlling.  Finally managed to get back to sleep and just woke up again (it’s 90% gone now).  So, update time; here’s the final results:

Turnout: 81,21%

Seats (32 required for a coalition):

Independence Party: 16

Left Greens: 11

Progress Party: 8

Social Democrats: 7

Middle Party: 7

Pirates: 6

Renewal: 4

People’s Party: 4

Everyone else got 0, including Bright Future. 

So what possible coalitions jump out? Well, first, it’s impossible to form a two-party coalition.  And unless something very unexpected happens (such as the Left Greens partnering with the Independence and Progress parties), it will take at least three. Four seems most likely. Which is just unheard of here.

On the left, we’ll start with the obvious three of the Left Greens, Social Democrats and Pirates: that’s 24 votes, needing 8 more.  Lo and behold, the Progress Party has 8.  In past years I might have had some serious doubts about that. But since Simmi has spun the worst elements of that party off into the Middle Party, hopefully what they seek now is just Agrarian populism.  They don’t like the EU and it’s somewhat dubious whether they’d support a national vote on continuing EU negotiations, which is the big thing for the Social Democrats, and which the Pirates like if only because it means more direct democracy (and which the Left Greens are willing to accept, even though they don’t like the EU).  The Progress Party also is somewhat anti-immigrant (although they’re not the worst of the bunch in this regard).  But on a lot of fronts I’d think that they could basically be “bought off” with promises to sustain or increase agricultural subsidies. They tend to be more to the left on economic policy (at least when it comes to spending, perhaps not so much on taxation).  We’ll see.

An alternative for the left to the Progress Party is Renewal + Peoples’ Party. But that might just increase the EU issues, because the Peoples’ Party, while progressive in many regards, is quite isolationist, anti-EU and anti-immigrant. So what does Renewal — a right, pro-EU party – get out of such a coalition? That would be hard, unless the Peoples’ Party is willing to sacrifice their international policy standpoints to get their domestic ones.

Trying to build a right coalition, we start with the Independence Party’s 16. If we don’t want to force the Progressive Party back together with their Middle Party splinter, then they have to have all of the other middle-to-right parties: Progress, Renewal, and the People’s Party. Renewal would pose the opposite EU problem to the right, in that the other parties are anti-EU and I can’t imagine them supporting a national vote on continuing EU negotiations.  But they might — again — sacrifice that for right-wing economic policy. But then the People’s Party would have to sacrifice progressive economic policy in order to get a conservative, isolationist foreign policy.

Lastly, the Independence Party could join with Progress and the Middle Party and either Renewal or the People’s Party.  That partly depends on how much Progress is willing to forgive and forget with the Middle Party and work with Simmi again. And either way, they’ll either have EU disagreements with Renewal or economic disagreements with the Peoples’ Party (conservative economic policies on spending / privatization may also rub Progress the wrong way).

There are other possibilities, but I have trouble picturing them, either due to the number of parties or improbable alliances.

In short, it’s going to be a mess.

I’ll close with just a couple more pics from last night.

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