Iceland 2009

Iceland, one of the countries worst hit by the financial crisis, but also home to one of the oldest Parliaments in the world (the Alþingi), held an early election yesterday. In 2007, the centre-right Independence Party (I) won, but its coalition with the agrarian liberal Progressive Party fell apart to the Progressive’s historically low result. As a result, a coalition was formed with the left-wing Socialist Democratic Alliance (SDA). When Iceland found itself in quasi-bankruptcy early this year, Prime Minister Geir Haarde (I) resigned and a new interim left-wing government was formed with Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (SDA) as Prime Minister.

The main issue these days in Iceland is joining the European Union (EU) and the Eurozone. Sigurðardóttir has made it clear that EU/Eurozone membership will be her top priority. Iceland is currently not a member of the EU due to fear that it would hurt its fishing. Fishing quotas remain an important issue in Icelandic politics.

The Independence Party, formed when Iceland was a part of Denmark (hence the name), has won a plurality of the vote since Icelandic independence in 1944. The party supports Iceland’s NATO membership but opposes EU membership. Its traditional coalition partner has been the rural centre-liberal Progressive Party, a traditional Scandinavian “centre” party (meaning agrarian). The Progressives, like many of these Scandinavian centre parties, have been becoming more and more urbanized and liberal as opposed to rural geezers. In fact, they just changed their EU policy to support EU membership. The Social Democratic Alliance was formed in 1999 by a merger of the social democratic Social Democrats, the democratic socialist post-communist People’s Alliance, the Women’s Alliance, and the left-populist National Movement. Despite the SDA’s attempt to unite the left against the Independence Party, this attempt failed since left-wing elements in the People’s Alliance founded the Left-Green Movement, a “green socialist” party similar to other Nordic green-left parties. The Left-Greens are opposed to EU membership (and NATO membership), even though they are currently in the interim coalition with the pro-EU SDA. The Liberal Party had seats in the last Parliament. Founded in 1998, the Liberals are actually a markedly right-wing party opposed to immigration, fishing quotas (a big issue), and EU membership (another big issue). It does, however, support Icelandic membership in NATO. The party recently split, with one MP joining the Independence Party and another MP joining the Progressives. There is also a new party, the Citizens’ Movement, which was formed at the height of the economic crisis. It seems to be in the populist protest party mold, demanding “democratic reforms”. Anyways, the results.

Social Democratic Alliance 29.8% (+3%) winning 20 seats (+2)
Independence Party 23.7% (-12.9%) winning 16 seats (-9)
Left-Green Movement 21.7% (+7.4%) winning 14 seats (+5)
Progressive Party 14.8% (+3.1%) winning 9 seats (+2)
Citizens’ Movement 7.2% (+7.2%) winning 4 seats (+4)
Liberal Party 2.2% (-5.1%) winning 0 seats (-4)
Democracy Movement 0.6% (+0.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The Independence Party, held as responsible for the financial crisis in Iceland, has been severly punished at the polls, giving it its worst result since 1946 and its first second-place finish. Results also show that fishing stuff seem to be the least of Icelandic concerns: the Liberals, who made quotas their big issue, were shut out of Parliament. Maybe it has something to do with Liberal divisions, though probably not entirely. However, it isn’t as bad as pollsters predicted: most saw the LeftGreenies in second with around 25-26%. It is very likely that the current interim SDA-LeftGreenies government (34 seats, 2 more than a majority) will form a government. They also won’t need to rely on Progressive outside support anymore. However, it will be interesting to see what gets done about EU membership: the SDA and Progressives (29 votes) support it, while Independence and Left-Greenies oppose it (30 votes). I don’t know how the Citizen thingee is on this issue.

Posted on April 26, 2009, in Iceland. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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