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Iceland’s PM: ‘Politicians Need to be More Political’

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Iceland’s PM: ‘Politicians Need to be More Political’

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. Photo: Geir Ólafsson.

Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson believes politicians need to be “more political” in order to set themselves apart from others. Sigmundur Davíð made the comment in an interview with Iceland Review Online on Thursday, following the closing press conference of the Northern Future Forum in Reykjavík. The prime minister had spoken in his closing remarks of the importance of government reaching out to the public. Iceland Review Online asked Sigmundur Davíð what he felt could be done to increase public faith in politics, politicians and government, given that it has waned in recent years.

“This is a very big and difficult question but one that I have of course been asking myself, as politicians have been doing recently, because there are strange and fascinating things happening in politics, just not in Iceland but all over Europe and in North America, and so on, where we see a strong trend, increased support for anti-establishment parties, very different parties, some to the right and some to the left .... This means that politicians need to ask themselves whether they have not been addressing the concerns of people in the societies and I think ... part of the reason why we are in this situation now, is politics have become too similar. There weren’t really the space between the different world views; politics in many countries has started sounding more or less the same.”

When speaking about different or new political parties gaining support, Sigmundur Davíð referred to, in part, the Pirate Party in Iceland. Support for the prime minister’s Progressive Party has been around 11-13 percent since March while the Pirate Party has enjoyed more support than any other party in Iceland, or 33-35 percent, during the period.

An MMR poll one year ago concluded that the public’s faith in politics and banks did not seem to have been restored in Iceland since the 2008 economic collapse. A total of 54.7 percent of respondents stated they had little faith in Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, and 66.8 percent had little faith in the banking system.

Politicians who are unorthodox tend to get noticed, Sigmundur Davíð stated. “When somebody comes up and steps up and says things that are maybe not politically correct, for example about the financial system, then it gets noticed, it gets noticed for being a change to what has become the conventional way of thinking and talking in politicians. Politicians need to, in my opinion, become more political, allow themselves to debate big issues, raise questions that haven’t been raised before. This is sometimes what I refer to as being more radical, but at the same time rational, so what we need is more political debate about real issues, allowing people to express their views, tackling those views by speaking about the substance of what is being discussed and getting out of this identity politics which apparently aren’t fooling anyone anymore.”

Late last month, the prime minister came under fire after the opposition asked him to discuss the indexation of loans but he reportedly refused. As reported, the opposition suggested a change to the scheduled program in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, so the matter could be discussed. Members of the governing parties accused the opposition of wasting valuable time and the motion to change Alþingi’s schedule to make room for the discussion failed to pass. The abolishment of indexed loans was one of the prime minister’s election promises, but nothing has so far been done to put an end to them.

Sigmundur Davíð said that attempting to be both radical and rational at the same time had proven successful. “What we’ve seen, from our experience, is that when we tackle big issues in a rational but, at the same time, radical way, then people supported it because then it fulfilled these two criteria of being both rational and at the same time meeting what was required ... To name an example, our emphasis on household debt relief something which many considered to be impossible, considered to be populist, but turned out to be both possible and rational.”

The cancelation of household debt was the prime minister’s big election promise. The government announced in November last year that its debt cancelation plan, which aims to correct indexed mortgages for the effects of inflation in 2008 and 2009, would result in average write-offs of ISK 1.35 million (USD 10,500, EUR 9,500) per household. The plan has, however, been harshly criticized by the opposition in part because the funds were initially supposed to come from foreign hedge funds rather than public funds.

The prime ministers of Iceland, Britain, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and the vice foreign minister of Lithuania convened at the Northern Future Forum in Reykjavík yesterday to discuss creative industries and innovation in public management.

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