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Upstart Pirate Party senses victory in Iceland elections

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Icelanders voted on Saturday in a snap election that could see the anti-establishment Pirate Party form the next government in the wake of the Panama Papers tax-dodging scandal and lingering anger over the 2008 financial meltdown.

The backlash began eight years ago, when 300,000 voters were devastated by a financial crash roundly blamed on the ruling Independence Party.

Should the "Pirates" win on October 29, Edward Snowden has been offered the safe haven of Icelandic citizenship.

As the the country's voters prepare for fresh elections, polls suggest the new "digital democrats", the Pirate Party, could steal a march on the older parties.

The Pirate Party would need to earn 32 or more seats to form a majority government.

The political landscape is vastly different in Iceland than it is in the US.

Even so, the Independence Party, which has overseen an economic recovery and taken the final steps to dismantle the capital controls that have been in place since 2008, is set to retain its spot as the biggest after the election and also wield much influence. The party won two seats in the 2013 elections, but gained many new followers following the political crisis that erupted in the country after the release of the Panama Papers revealing corruption in Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson's government. Pirates now hold just three of the 63 seats.

A fierce defender of public transparency and direct democracy, the Pirate Party has vowed to hold a referendum on resuming the nation's stalled European Union membership talks. It wants, among other things, to give asylum to USA whistleblower Edward Snowden, accept the bitcoin virtual currency and clean up corruption.

"We'd rather be naive than corrupt", Jonsdottir said.

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The Pirate Party, best known for its activism over copyright law and the protection of civil liberties, was expected to gain significantly in Saturday's election.

"Is Iceland going to be courageous enough to say no to this corruption bloc which is affiliated with the governmental parties and going to vote for change or are they not ready yet?"

The Independence Party may win the highest percentage of votes, but will not be able to rule without support of other parties, and it may get locked out by a coalition of the Pirate Party, the Left-Green, who are now the third-most popular, and a few other opposition parties on the left of the spectrum. Numerous party's candidates and organizers are internet rights activists or veterans of the Saucepan Revolution with little experience of conventional politics.

They have three MPs in the 63-seat Althing (parliament).

But several months ago, the Pirates had nearly twice the support the latest polls have shown, according to Icelandic newspaper Morgundbladid.

Led by "poet politician" Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the party was formed through a wave of online activism.

"I've always voted for the Independence Party and I don't intend to make any changes to that", said Jon Olafsson, a pensioner in Gardabaer, an Independence Party stronghold.

That means if the Pirates formed an alliance with the Left-Green party, now on 19%, the group would just need 10 points to form a majority. Voting ends at 22:00 with partial results due early on Sunday.

"I think it's risky to just give him asylum because asylum does not give you the same protections as citizenship", she told Forbes previous year.

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