Iceland Government Poised to Win Majority, but Future Uncertain
Iceland’s government was poised to win a majority in Saturday’s election, early results showed, though it remained to be seen if Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir’s left-right coalition would agree to continue in power together.
The three-party coalition has brought Iceland four years of stability after a decade of crises.
Jakobsdottir’s Left-Green Movement, the conservative Independence Party and the center-right Progressive Party were together credited with 38 of 63 seats in parliament, with more than a third of votes counted.
But the Left-Green Movement was seen losing crucial ground to its right-wing partners, putting Jakobsdottir’s future as prime minister — and the coalition itself — in doubt.
“We will have to see how the governmental parties are doing together and how we are doing,” Jakobsdottir told AFP, as the early results showed her party losing one seat in parliament from the 11 it won in 2017.
A clear picture of the political landscape was however only expected to emerge later Sunday when all votes had been counted.
A record nine parties are expected to win seats in the Althing, Iceland’s almost 1,100-year-old parliament, splintering the political landscape more than ever before.
That makes it particularly tricky to predict which parties could ultimately end up forming a coalition.
“I know that the results will be complicated, it will be complicated to form a new government,” Jakobsdottir said.
The largest party looked set to remain the Independence Party, whose leader Bjarni Benediktsson is eyeing the post of prime minister.
It was seen holding on to its 16 seats.
But the election’s big winner appeared to be the center-right Progressive Party, which was seen gaining four seats, to 12.
“Because there are so many parties, I think there will be a lot of different opportunities to form a government,” Jakobsdottir told AFP earlier in the week.
During her four-year term, Jakobsdottir has introduced a progressive income tax system, increased the social housing budget and extended parental leave for both parents.
Broadly popular, she has also been hailed for her handling of the COVID-19 crisis, with just 33 deaths in the country of 370,000.
But she has also had to make concessions to keep the peace in her coalition.
She said Saturday that if returned to power, her party would focus on the “huge challenges we face to build the economy in a more green and sustainable way,” as well addressing the climate crisis where “we need to do radical things.”
This is only the second time since 2008 that a government has made it to the end of its four-year mandate on the sprawling island.
Deep public distrust of politicians amid repeated scandals sent Icelanders to the polls five times from 2007 to 2017.
Outgoing Finance Minister Benediktsson is a former prime minister who comes from a family that has long held power on the right.
He has survived several political scandals, including being implicated in the 2016 Panama Papers leak that revealed offshore tax havens, and is standing in his fifth election.
He said he was optimistic after the early results.
“These numbers are good, (it’s a) good start to the evening,” he told public broadcaster RUV.
But there are five other parties all expected to garner around 10-15% of votes which could band together to form various coalitions.
They are the Left-Green Movement, the Progressive Party, the Social Democratic Alliance, the libertarian Pirate Party and the center-right Reform Party. A new Socialist Party is also expected to put in a strong showing.
“There is not a clear alternative to this government. If it falls and they can’t continue, then it’s just a free-for-all to create a new coalition,” political scientist Eirikur Bergmann said.