Sunday, 4 December 2016

Pirates In Power: Can They Govern Iceland?

The recent election in Iceland have resulted in a Mexican standoff in which none of the parties with the most votes has enough seats to give it an overall majority. Coalition is the only way forward but getting disparate parties to agree enough to govern together has proved problematic.

Pirates are making history

Friday 2nd December 2016 will go down in the annals of history as the first time the Pirate Party was asked to form a national government. This should not be dismissed as a blip; the democratic deficit created by an entrenched, uncaring Establishment has left a political vacuum that can only be filled by a party (or parties) willing to provide real opposition to the status quo. The rise of the Pirates was inevitable. The question is, can they live up to the challenge of actually governing a country given that they're perceived to be radical anarchists with no experience in any kind of government and no inside knowledge of how the political machinery works?

How the Establishment failed

As I pointed out in my post "Could Iceland Give Us The World's First Pirate Party In Government?", the democratic deficit has resulted in public dissatisfaction; people are so desperate for change they'll try anything to break the status quo. Enter the Pirates, who are less bothered with ideology than their counterparts in the other parties. They've also promised transparency, accountability, and most importantly, inclusion via direct democracy; people can take part in decision-making via online polls. This is a world away from "Trust me, I'm a politician. Vote for me, then move along" approach we're all accustomed to and honestly some people find it scary but that is exactly how the Establishment failed.

The social contract

There is an implicit social contract between ourselves and our governors to the effect that we will pay our taxes, etc., and they'll run the country in our best interests. When they renege on that deal by dipping their hands in the till and running away laughing with our hard-earned cash we are rightly annoyed. You know it's a problem when the only difference between the people involved in corruption scandals are the names on the labels. This created the power vacuum the Pirates have been asked to fill.

The ruling Independence party had been tasked with forming a coalition by President Gudni Johannesson, but when those talks failed the responsibility was passed onto the liberal Left Greens.

Their talks collapsed shortly after, leaving the Pirates - or Piratar in Icelandic - as potential kingmakers as the only remaining group that is capable of forming a new coalition. - Iceland's radical Pirate Party asked to form its next government, by James Rothwell for The Telegraph

Can anarchists govern?

"Kingmakers" is right; the Pirates are apparently more interested in working with others than in being in charge. It seems that their "not really a leader as such," Birgitta Jonsdottir, apparently isn't interested in the top job, i.e. Prime Minister, because she wants to keep the party true to its values. If that's true the Prime Minister's job is not a shoo-in (it's usually the leader of the winning party) and will most likely be the subject of further discussion — and voting, probably online.

Confession: I'm suspicious of anarchists

This is all well and good but I must confess that being conservative I'm suspicious of anarchists on principle; how on Earth do they expect to get things done if important decisions are likely to end up getting bogged down in committee? And like it or not, we human beings need leaders. Someone to take charge. A place at which the proverbial buck stops. Leaders don't just get to boss others around, they take responsibility. How can you do that when you're not willing to accept responsibility? It's one thing to share power and be accountable, etc., but at some point someone has got to take the reins instead of letting the horse go wherever it likes subject to the consent of the other road users and the landowners whose property you might encroach on. I've not forgotten the lessons of the Paris Commune; anarchy doesn't scale. If I'm right, watch this space: I predict that the Pirate coalition will unravel unless they're willing to step up to the plate and take command — to actually, you know, govern.

Experience is needed

One thing to be said about the Pirates' approach here is that they don't have experience in government or in politics as such beyond having won a few seats in the previous election. In being handed the mandate they have a responsibility to lead, but in stepping back to let one of the other parties take the top job and main cabinet appointments, they give themselves the opportunity to not only be part of a functioning government but to gain the experience required to run governmental departments in the future. As it is, if they let the experienced people run the country while they work away in the background influencing the government, that could be effective in terms of ensuring a government that actually works for the people. They can always move forward at a later date armed with the requisite experience.

The eyes of the world are upon us

The world's press are calling the party "radical," "anti-authoritarian," and "hackers" in a number of outlets, raising an eyebrow at the thought of how desperate the Icelandic people must be if they're so willing to vote in untried and untested newcomers. This is our opportunity to shine. I really hope we don't mess it up by either copping out of taking responsibility for ensuring that the country is properly governed or allowing ourselves to be caught up in yet another financial scandal. It is good and right that party values should be adhered to but it's better by far to do a good job in ensuring that the good ship Iceland is sailed with a steady hand on the helm.

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