Politics & the Popular President (PS)


palli-dlStrange times in the republic.

President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson will be elected for an unheard of fifth four year term.

He is so popular that no heavy weight candidate dares to challenge him.

And we call this a democratic republic.

Worse even is the trust we have in Alþingi, the parliament.

According to a recent poll by Capacent, only ten percent of Icelanders have trust in the Alþingi.

This is understandable—when you have five of the world’s worst parliamentarians in the same parliament;Vigdís Hauksdóttir, Jón Bjarnason, Þór Saari, Sigmund Davíð Gunnlaugsson and Margrét Tryggvadóttur.

Our greatest trust is placed in the Coast Guard; 90 percent of Icelanders trust them, followed by the police with 83 percent, and the University of Iceland with 77 percent, about the same as the country’s healthcare system.

Yes, trust.

Alþingi is now putting former Prime Minister Geir Haarde on trial.

The trial is politics, nothing else.

But after the first week, it is very interesting to see that everyone is pointing fingers at each other.

Jón Daníelsson, a Reader in Finance at the London School of Economics, put it so well in his blog post entitled I did not know, I could not do, it’s their fault. His post reads:

“Iceland is going through yet another round of post crisis recriminations, this time with the prosecution of the Prime Minister on whose watch the collapse happened. The witnesses’ testimonies are wearily familiar: I did not know, I could not do, it’s their fault.

There are three main types of players:

The government ministers at the time, many of which still are ministers

They claim they did not have the information, nor power to act. One might expect that since the parliament has the power to pass laws, it could do something about it? Especially since the government was running around the world begging for bailouts for quite some time before the crash, as if it was entitled to foreign taxpayers bailing out its own mistakes. Of course it got rebuffed. It got offers of help in directly addressing the pending crisis, but refused saying there was no crisis and besides it knows what it’s doing.

The bankers claim everything was fine, and it was somebody else’s fault that they collapsed (they being Lehman Brothers, the Icelandic government, foreign governments, foreign creditors or incompetent Icelandic bankers (in other banks), or some other boogeyman). Of course, this is exactly what every failed banker has ever said.

The central bank and the mandarins. The central bank alternates between two types of explanations. Sometimes it says that it understood what was going on but could not act because it would cause a collapse or it did not have the power to stop the excesses. It also likes to say that they got fooled by the banks, but hence couldn’t act.

As always in Iceland, what is being said publicly has very little to do with reality. This is why foreign observers usually get Iceland wrong.

What is going on here is “sound and fury signifying nothing”, politics as usual. The only politician being prosecuted is the former prime minister who happens to come from the current main opposition party. The minister in charge of banking regulation at the time, not only is not being prosecuted but his party (still in government) felt it entirely appropriate to reelect him as MP. Because the minority party in the former government is now the majority party in the government, they saw no reason to punish their own. Many of the very same government ministers who presided over the crisis are now also ministers, one is even the prime minister.”

Páll Stefánsson – [email protected]

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