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And the Winner Is..???

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The ballots have been counted. Strong coffee has been brewed and consumed (apparently with delicious pavlova cakes at Independence Party headquarters in Gardabaer, or so my sources tell me). But the winner is not yet clear.

Regular readers of this website, and 100 percent of Icelandic residents, will know that Parliamentary elections were held on Saturday. More than 80 percent of citizens (sadly, myself not included. I’ve only lived here four years, and my mother-in-law is not a cabinet minister) showed up to cast their ballets for one of six parties in contention to rule the superpower of the North Atlantic.

Those of you reading from the other Nordic countries, or from many continental European countries, will be familiar with the proportional representation system of government which Iceland uses. Readers familiar with the old UK-style “first-past-the-post” form of Parliament may wish to pay closer attention to the following:

Iceland’s 63-seat parliament, Althingi, is elected based on a system of proportional representation. The country is divided into six constituencies and each constituency is allocated a number of members of parliament based on the population of the district. There are usually between nine and 12 MPs per constituency. These MPs are elected based on proportional representation.

For example, if there are ten seats up for grabs in one district, and Party C garners 20 percent of the vote, they will be awarded two seats. This avoids the conflict often occurring in other electoral systems, whereby a party might receive, say, 10 percent of the national vote, but no seats in parliament. (Although just to complicate things there are even a few “extra” seats available in the Althingi, just to ensure that representation is as proportional as possible.)

The other side of the coin is that an outright majority is rarely, if ever, found, as no party ever wins more than 50 percent of the popular vote. (It has never happened in the Republic’s history.) So the real fun of the Icelandic elections isn’t on the evening the ballots are counted, but in the days following the numerical results, where secret and not-so-secret meetings are held between the leaders of the various parties, each trying to secure the best deal with a partner in order to form a coalition majority government (in Iceland’s case, a combination of parties whose seats in parliament total 32 or more).

Within the next few days (although in decades past this process could take weeks), the public should be made aware of the winning deal, and therefore which groups will form the next government and who will become Prime Minister.

THE CONTENDERS

The Independence Party (25 seats)

The center-right Independence Party garnered the most number of seats in the election and is therefore in a solid position in the debating. Technically, they could form a majority with any other single party (except the Liberals), although they are ideologically farthest from the Left-Green alliance. Their most natural choice is perhaps the Progressive party, with whom they have governed in coalition for the last 16 years. The Progressives suffered the worst defeat in their history, however, and may decide that it is not in their best interest to form a coalition in which they would be the significantly smaller party. Geir Haarde, the current PM, will retain his position if, as seems likely, the Independence Party is involved in the government.

The Progressive Party (7 seats)

The centrist progressive party, with its base coming mostly from the countryside, had the worst election result of all the parties. They lost significant support and five seats in parliament. Still, the Progressives often manage to come through adversity unscathed and once again they hold the cards. They could partner again with the Independence Party or could even be a lynchpin in a three-party coalition with the Left-Greens and the Social Democrats. Their influence is much stronger than their percentage of the vote would suggest.

The Social Democratic Party (18 Seats)

Despite a satisfactory result, this center-left party may not have won quite as many seats as had been hoped for and is now in a difficult position. They are unlikely to form a coalition with their main opponents, the Independence party (although this has been done several times in the past), but it may be difficult to pull together the disparate ideologies of the remaining parties to create a grand coalition against the Independents.

The Left-Green Alliance (9 Seats)

This left-leaning alliance had a very successful election, gaining four seats from the last time. Their policies differ considerably from the Independence Party, with the exception of both parties’ opposition to membership in the European Union, and it seems unlikely they will be a part of a coalition this time round.

The Liberal Party (4 Seats)

The right-leaning liberal party had hoped for a greater success in the election and will be unable to be in government unless it is as a member of a grand four-party coalition, mostly with parties on the opposite side of the political spectrum to themselves.

Icelandic Movement – Living Land (0 seats)

The newly-founded party, led by Ómar Ragnarsson, finished with less than 5 percent of the vote and did note win any seats in parliament.

Stayed tuned to IR’s Daily News for updates on the elections and the formation of a new government.

ER – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.