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or How To Win An Election While Being Everything "Pragmatists" Hate

As most well-informed people know, the first nation that was convulsed by the impact of the financial "crisis" was Iceland, which led to what remains the most successful and radical public response to date.  Essentially a self-limiting revolution grew up amidst mass street protests, nighttime bonfire rallies, and even surreptitious escapades in and on the parliament building, which forced the entire government to resign in disgrace.  New elections were held in which the island nation's most left wing party, the Left Greens led by now-PM Johanna Sigurdardottir, gained the most votes, and formed a coalition government with the center-left Social Democrats.

In the changed and charged atmosphere of Icelandic politics, corruption and mismanagement at all levels of government are no longer tolerable.  Nowhere has this proven more true than in the nation's largest city and capital, Reykjavik, where a new force that defies all the "rules" of "pragmatic" politics as "the art of the possible" has won the municipal elections, and where the impossible has now taken political power.

[Note:  the block-quoting below is taken from @-infos, which rejects the very concept of "copyright" as a matter of principle, so no one should be worried about "fair use" considerations.]

While people the world over marveled at the size, militance and persistence of the Icelandic protests, few were aware of the prominent role artists, anarchists, and punks played in its success.  That these elements stepped aside after the toppling of the government and allowed the traditional Left parties to take the national reins only served to obscure their pivotal role. However, those activists stepped forward to play the decisive and victorious role in the recent Reykjavik municipal elections, winning the mayoral race and 6 of the 15 seats on the city council.  What makes that achievement particularly interesting is that they did so in a manner which in no way compromised their politics, character, and culture.  They won election not by running from being artists, punks and anarchists, but by running as artists, punks, and anarchists.  Newly elected Mayor comedian Jon Gnarr explains, "Just because something is funny doesn’t mean it isn’t serious."

How can funny be serious?  Let's take a look at some key elements of Gnarr's campaign platform:

A polar bear display for the zoo. Free towels at public swimming pools. A "drug-free Parliament by 2020."

Some here may see the funny in those, but where's the serious?  As the @-infos writer explains:

The polar bear idea, for example, was not totally facetious. As a result of global warming, a handful of polar bears have swum to Iceland in recent years and been shot. Better, Mr. Gnarr said, to capture them and put them in the zoo.

The free towels? That evolved from an idea to attract more tourists by
attaining spa status for the city’s public pools, which have seawater
and sulfur baths. For accreditation under certain European Union rules,
however, a spa has to offer free towels, so that became a campaign slogan.

(The article fails to indicate how Mr. Gnarr plans to provide for that "drug-free parliament by 2020.")

Then there was the matter of the governing coalition.  Holding only 6 of 15 seats, Mr. Gnarr's Best Party needed a coalition partner in order to be able to move its agenda.  First recognizing that he had only garnered 34.7% of the vote in the multi-party race, Mr. Gnarr moved to reassure the other 65.3% of the voters in his acceptance speech:

"No one has to be afraid of the Best Party," he said, "because it is the best party. If it wasn’t, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that."

(Coming from a country where the Bad Party and the Worst Party alternate in power it makes one long for the Best Party.)

Gnarr had one bottom-line condition for a coalition partner in the council:

With his party having won 6 of the City Council’s 15 seats, Mr. Gnarr
needed a coalition partner, but ruled out any party whose members had
not seen all five seasons of "The Wire."

Ultimately, like the Left Greens at the national level, the Best Party chose a coalition with the Social Democrats, though not without certain misgivings:

The Best Party, whose members include a who’s who of Iceland’s punk rock
scene, formed a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (despite
Mr. Gnarr’s suspicion that party leaders had assigned an underling to
watch "The Wire" and take notes). With that, Mr. Gnarr took office last
week, hoping to serve out a full, four-year term, and the new government
granted free admission to swimming pools for everyone under 18. Its
plans include turning Reykjavik, with its plentiful supply of geothermal
energy, into a hub for electric cars.

So how does this Best Party government look in practice?

Ottarr Proppe, the third-ranking member
of the Best Party, who was with the cult rock band HAM and the punk band
Rass... now sits on the city’s executive board, where he will
be deciding matters like how much money to allocate for roads. "Making a
video was very easy," he said.

At a recent budget meeting, Mr. Proppe, who has a wild red beard, ran
his hand through his bleached-blond hair as he studied the fiscal report
from behind tinted, gold-rimmed glasses. His old band mate S. Bjorn
Blondal quizzed the city’s comptroller. Heida Helgadottir, who ran the
campaign and is now assistant to the mayor, wore a diaphanous minidress
and typed notes.

Mr. Gnarr, who comes across as thoughtful and reserved, did not speak
often. When he did he had the whole room, including the strait-laced
Social Democrat, in stitches. Still, he is not just playing a cutup;
friends describe his move to politics as a spiritual awakening. He agreed.

"Of all the projects I’ve been involved with, this one has given me the
most satisfaction, the greatest sense of contentment."

Three cheers for Reykjavik, Mayor Gnarr, the Best Party, and winning without pragmatism!

Originally posted to Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta! on Sat Jul 03, 2010 at 06:04 PM PDT.

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