Sunday

17th Oct 2021

Iceland set to re-elect scandal-hit prime minister

  • It is the second election in Iceland in just 12 months. (Photo: Eivind Sætre/norden.org)

Iceland's opposition Left Green Movement (LGM) was leading in opinion polls until very recently - but now voter surveys suggest the Independence Party, historically Iceland's largest party, will remain in that role and lead a new government after Saturday's (28 October) elections.

The latest opinion poll published on Thursday by Frettabladid predicts that the leader of the Independence Party, (IP), Bjarni Benediktsson, still holds the backing of 24.1 percent of the voters, down from 29 percent in the last election on 29 October 2016.

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  • Prime minister Bjarni Benediktsson was forced to step down just nine months into his term after it emerged that his father had written a letter vouching for the character of a convicted child molester (Photo: Johannes Jansson/norden.org)

With such a result on Saturday, the Independence Party would still be the country's largest party and would be offered the role to form a new government provided it has a majority together with potential allies, such as the Centre Party and the Progressive Party.

The country, with a population of 330,000 and a 63-seat parliament, applied to join the EU in 2009 - although that application was suspended in 2013, and remains a divisive topic.

Despite the country's small size, some eleven parties are in contention in the election, held under a proportional voting system and 32 seats needed for a governing majority.

It is the second election in Iceland in just 12 months, called because Benediktsson was forced to step down just nine months into his term after it emerged that his father had written a letter vouching for the character of a convicted child molester.

The real opposition

The real opposition to Benediktsson comes from the left, and this time around could result in the Icelanders getting the young, female, left-winger, Katrin Jakobsdottir, 41, as their new prime minister.

Her Left Green Movement is predicted to get around 19.2 percent of the vote, up from 15.9 percent last year, and likely become the second largest party, according to the Frettabladid's poll.

Jakobsdottir is relatively young - a mother of three who lives in an apartment block and cycles to work - and is seen as a different kind of leader compared to the two previous prime ministers, both male and hit by scandals.

Her Left Green Movement is not only opposed to joining the EU, but is also critical of Nato - which could make it hard for Jakobsdottir to form a new coalition.

Jakobsdottir would look to the Social Democratic Alliance, the Progressive Party and the Pirate Party as potential allies in a new coalition government.

The Social Democratic Alliance could become much stronger in these elections, polling around 14.3 percent, up from 5.7 percent last year. The party favours EU membership.

The Pirate Party is not against EU membership but favours referendums, including one on whether to start fresh EU accession talks. The Pirates look set to receive 9.4 percent on Saturday, according to the latest poll.

The Progressive Party is also opposed to entering the EU, but is likely to have its support halved in Saturday's election.

The former leader, who was Benediktsson's predecessor as prime minister, Sigmundur D. Gunnlaugsson, also had his tenure cut short after the so-called 'Panama Papers' revealed that he had links to an offshore company in a Caribbean tax haven.

Around a month ago, Gunnlaugsson founded a new Centre Party. This new party is also opposed to EU membership and is predicted to enter the parliament with around 9.6 percent of the vote on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Gunnlaugsson's old party, the Progressive Party, is on around 6.2 percent, down from 11.5 percent last year.

Stronger pro-EU social democrats

It is difficult to say what government will take over after the elections. Based on the latest poll, it would take at least four parties to form a majority in the parliament and thus a government. Last year, it took two and a half months to form a government.

This time is likely to be similar.

If everything else fails, there is even some speculation that the two largest parties, according to the polls, the IP and the LGM, might form a government together with a third party - but that will probably be the final option.

The EU has not been a big issue in the campaign, although both the pro-EU parties, the Social Democratic Alliance and especially the liberal Reform Party have tried to raise it - mainly referring to the euro and the strong value of the krona.

If the election result is in line with the recent polls, both these two pro-EU parties will enter parliament after the election.

The Reform Party would win 7.8 percent, according to the poll.

It split from the Independence Party in 2016, mainly over discontent with its decision not to hold a referendum on joining the European Union.

Should there be a centre-left government, it might decide to hold a referendum on whether to start fresh accession talks with the EU, as the LGM has said although it rejects EU membership, it would not oppose such a referendum.

The most recent EU poll, however, shows that a solid majority of Icelanders are opposed to EU membership - as in every poll since 2009.

More Icelanders are also opposed to adopting the euro and to starting fresh accession talks.

Analysis

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In the space of three years, Iceland's main parties have seen their vote decimated, and new parties may well take almost half the electorate in Saturday's election.

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