Icelandic politics are in turmoil. Faith in politicians collapsed along with the banks in 2008 and in four years they have not been able to restore it—a 2012 Capacent Gallup survey concluded that 90 percent of respondents distrusted Alþingi, the parliament.
The vast majority of the 63 seats in parliament usually go to fjórflokkurinn: the right-leaning Independence Party, the central Progressive Party, and the left-leaning Social Democratic Alliance and Left-Green Movement.
With support for the government deteriorating, recent surveys indicate that the Independence Party may reclaim its position as the country’s largest political party in the next election, held in April 2013.
Some voters argue that in spite of lofty promises, the Social Democrat-Left-Green coalition has not been efficient enough in leading Iceland out of the crisis.
Economic recovery is not thanks to their efforts but rather the International Monetary Fund, critics reason.
The two coalition parties have disagreed at every turn—most notably on Iceland’s accession process to the European Union—and the constant reshuffling of ministers indicates an internal power struggle. Accusations of favoritism, putting ones own interests before the nation’s and wheeling and dealing are running high.
Then again, if the Independence Party wins and forges a coalition with the Progressive Party, we’re looking at the same scenario as before the banking collapse—they’re the ones who privatized the banks. Have they learned their lessons? Can they be trusted?
Voting any of the fjórflokkurinn parties is to accept status quo. But what other options are there?
The new parties have very little following, although there are predictions that Mayor Jón Gnarr’s announcement that he will run for Björt framtíð—the offspring of his Best Party which won the last City Council election in Reykjavík—might tip the scales.
While around half the voters want their old parties back in power and rewind the economic situation back to the 2007 bubble, the other half longs for changes.
Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who will after this term bid politics farewell, predicted after the 2010 municipal elections—where a number of new parties, including the Best Party, came into power—the end of fjórflokkurinn.
She also actively supports the draft for a new Constitution, having expressed her wish that it will be voted on in the next parliamentary election and taken into effect on Iceland’s National Day, June 17, 2013.
If so, it might change the face of Icelandic politics forever.
Meanwhile, people are gearing up for election fever, with primaries indicating who will lead the upcoming campaigns.
The main players:
In the Independence Party camp, former Mayor of Reykjavík Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir won convincingly in the Reykjavík Constituency primary, while chairman Bjarni Benediktsson got a weak election for the first seat in the Southwest Constituency.
Hanna Birna lost against Bjarni when she rivaled him for the party’s chair last year but now there are calls for her to run against him again. She has declared that she won’t but there are speculations that she might change her mind in the New Year.
With PM Jóhanna retiring, two candidates have come forth as her potential successors as leader of the Social Democrats: MP Árni Páll Árnason and Minister of Welfare Guðbjartur Hannesson.
Some of the party’s members find Árni Páll too conservative while Guðbjartur made himself unpopular by deciding to raise the salaries of Landspítali University National Hospital director Björn Zoëga, a decision which was later revoked.
The Left-Greens have lost credibility due to compromises on some of its basic policies, such as agreeing to the Social Democrats’ application for EU membership. Inner struggle has almost caused a split with three members leaving the party during the term.
In spite of this, chairman Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, who serves as Minister of Industries and Innovation, is the party’s undisputed leader. Backstage, Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson is said to have challenged his position but failed so far.
Chairman of the Progressive Party Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson made an unexpected move when he decided to run for the first seat in the Northeast Constituency, the party’s stronghold, instead of in the Reykjavík or Southwest Constituencies.
Sigmundur’s victory over rival Höskuldur Þórhallsson secured his position as chair, while his seat in Reykjavík was filled by businessman Frosti Sigurjónsson. Frosti’s decision to run for the party is considered likely to raise its popularity ratings.
The new players:
Björt framtíð (‘Bright Future’) is a new party which builds on the Best Party, a candidacy which many voters took as a joke until it made comedian Jón Gnarr Mayor of Reykjavík. Yesterday, he announced his decision to run for the party.
The party is also backed by former Progressive Party and Social Democrat MP Guðmundur Steingrímsson and MP Róbert Marshall, who will leave the Social Democrats after this term.
Other new parties include Píratapartíið (anglicized Icelandic for ‘the Pirate Party’), led by MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who was involved in the U.S. administration’s WikiLeaks case, Dögun (‘Dawn’) with which presidential candidate Andrea J. Ólafsdóttir is associated and the Right-Greens, chaired by radio presenter Guðmundur Franklín Jónsson.
Other possible candidacies have been mentioned and new parties may still pop up in time for the election.
Whatever happens, the New Year is likely to bring about changes to the political playing field.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – email@example.com