Looking Into Icelandic Politics: Elections

By Michael Rones

Iceland had its second snap election in a year on October 28. The election comes after the collapse of the coalition in the 63-seat parliamentary body, the Althing, that resulted from the prime minister’s involvement in a scandal. This is the second scandal that involved a prime Minister has been in the past two years and the realizations of these scandals have rocked the country and have led to the proliferation and decline of various alternative parties, even as the scandal-ridden prime ministers manage to hold onto some popularity.

The election comes after the discovery of a letter that the father of Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson wrote petitioning for the civil rights of a convicted pedophile. Despite this coalition-collapsing episode, Prime Minister Benediktsson was able to lead his Independent Party, a center-right party, to the largest share of seats in the Althing with sixteen, a decrease of five seats. While the Independent Party holds the most seats following the election, President Gudni Johannesson may choose the Left-Green Movement to form a coalition despite their disappointing results after predicted to win more than eleven seats. If the Left-Green Movement were to make a coalition, it would be just the second time that a left-of-center coalition was in power since Iceland gained full independence in 1944 from Denmark. Whether it is the Independent Party or the Left-Green Movement that makes a coalition, it may be some time before the coalition is made as it took almost two months for the previous coalition to be made.

The election also featured two former prime ministers. Former Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson led his newly formed Center Party to six seats in the Althing. This comes as a surprise as he stepped down from the role of Prime Minister after the release of the Panama Papers revealed complications of conflict of interest as a politician. His campaign induced populist sentiments, as he threatened to take the media outlets to court which he believes treated him unfairly, while also appealing to the rural population by promising to redistribute the wealth of the country. The Progressive Party, which was the former party of Gunnlaugsson, is now led by former Prime Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, who became prime minister in lieu of Prime Minister Gunnlaugsson’s resignation. The party still has not recovered from the political damage of the scandal but managed to win eight seats. The party that leads the coalition very well could be the one that convinces the Progressive Party to join them.

The election marked a decline for the Pirate and Bright Future Parties. These extreme parties saw an increase in political support following the previous election. The Pirates, who aim to promote civil rights, privacy, and government transparency, lost for of its seats, while the Bright Future Party, which the New York Times calls “hipsterish,” lost all of its seats.

What can be concluded from this election? Buffeted by the political scandals, Iceland is one of a number of western democracies that has seen drastic political transformation in the past two years. Iceland, like many other countries, has recovered from the financial crisis of 2008, but is struggling to find the direction the country wants to head as the growth rate experienced during recovery has slowed and uncertainty for the future and dissatisfaction with the present state of the country. Former Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson’s relative success follows the growth of populism in Europe and the United States. The decline of the extreme Pirate and Bright Future parties in the election following a successful one and former Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson’s ultimate failure to restore his popularity may indicate a possible trend for extreme parties and figures in other western democracies when the next election cycle comes around in countries like the United States, Germany, and Austria.






The Icelandic Pirate Party




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Filed in: Featured content, International

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