Yesterday, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced in his New Year’s Day address that he would not run again for reelection. Ólafur Ragnar will have been president for 20 years when his fifth term ends on August 1. A minority, a total of 47.8 percent, said they were happy with the president in a recent poll, published December 28.
Many of the people the Icelandic media spoke with following Ólafur Ragnar's announcement that he would not run, said that they thought the decision was right. Political leaders such as Birgitta Jónsdóttir of the Pirate Party, Iceland’s largest party according to polls, and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Chair of the Left Greens, have welcomed the president’s decision.
Ólafur Ragnar has been controversial from the day he started in politics. He started his career in the then centrist Progressive Party, then joined a small party called Alliance of Liberals and Leftists. Next he joined the People’s Alliance, the leftmost party in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament. He had a seat in Parliament for nine years in nearly two decades, from 1978 to 1996. In 1996, he was elected president, an up to then mostly ceremonial post. In 2004, he first used the veto power the president has according to the constitution. No president had used that power up to then. He has used that power twice since then.
During the years leading up to the economic collapse, Ólafur Ragnar was very close to the business leaders who led the international charge of the Icelandic banks into the UK and other markets around the world. He often used their private airplanes and was a guest of honor at their parties, something which he has been harshly criticized for since.
In recent years, the president has been leaning more and more to the right, coming out against Iceland’s European Union membership negotiations, that were started in 2010. Most recently he warned against Muslims and reported financial support from Saudi Arabia to build a mosque, a move he seemed to support earlier in 2015.
Even though he was up for election three times (twice he ran unopposed), he never received a majority of the vote of the nation as a whole, even though in his reelection campaign he ran against minor candidates with relatively little experience.