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Icelandic voters to choose between Pirates and establishment

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - Icelanders defied strong winds and rain on Saturday to vote in a parliamentary election with polls showing the opposition led by the anti-establishment Pirate Party could topple the ruling center-right coalition.

Icelanders’ faith in their political and financial establishment was shaken after the 2008 financial crisis and further eroded this year when several senior government figures were named in the Panama Papers on offshore tax havens.

The biggest protests in Icelandic history ultimately led to the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of the Progressive Party and the early election this weekend.

“I voted the Pirates this time because I want change. I’m tired of all this mess,” Georg Jonasson, 49 and unemployed, told Reuters after casting his ballot at the Laugalaekjar school.

Founded by Internet activists and led by poet Birgitta Jonsdottir, the Pirates promise to clean up corruption, look into granting asylum to ex-U.S. spy contractor Edward Snowden and involve people more directly in lawmaking.

“Change is beautiful, there is nothing to worry about... We can sense that the times are a-changing,” said Jonsdottir after casting her vote, quoting American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s anthem of civil rights and Vietnam War protests.

“If it’s naive to listen to people, then so be it. We’d rather be naive than corrupt, and the Icelandic people are very sick of the nepotism and corruption,” she said.

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Polls were due to close at 2200 GMT, with first results expected soon afterward, though bad weather could delay matters.

Pre-election polls showed the Independence and Progressive parties stood to lose their current majority in the Althing, often described as the world’s oldest parliament, which means they would have to find a third coalition partner to stay in power.

The Pirates would be looking to form a majority with the current opposition parties - the Left-Green Movement, the Social Democratic Alliance and Bright Future.

An Oct. 28 poll conducted by Market and Media Research (MMR) showed 36 percent support for the government parties, while the four opposition parties took about 49 percent combined.

In a tight race, the newly-established Vidreisn (Reform Party) could become kingmaker. The pro-European, liberal Vidreisn has not taken sides yet, but some analysts predict it would favor the current government as its economic policy leans rightwards.

While the Independence Party remains the biggest party, support for the Pirates has been steady at around 20 percent over the past months, well above the 5 percent it won in the 2013 election but below a 40 percent peak.

The current government parties point to their own success in reviving the economy. Fueled by a tourism boom, Iceland has recovered from its banking meltdown and economic growth this year is expected to hit 4.3 percent.

Parties on both sides have pledged no major changes to the ongoing lifting of remaining capital controls imposed after the 2008 crisis. The remaining curbs could be removed fully next year, the central bank governor told Reuters on Friday.

Turnout in Iceland is normally high at about 80 percent, but as in most countries, young voters are less likely to cast their ballots, which could hit support for the Pirates.

Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; editing by Andrew Roche