Icelandic voters are calling for renewal in the political scene.
A new party, Björt framtíð (‘Bright Future’; BF), is soaring with a support rating of 18 percent, according to an MMR survey published in early February, and will be the country’s second or third largest party after the election on April 27, if support remains this high.
Other new parties have not taken off just yet but a lot may happen until the election. Support is fluctuating it seems, with certain issues proving either valuable or costly to parties.
Iceland’s victory in the Icesave case, for example, resulted in a surge in support for the Progressive Party, jumping to second place with a ranking of around 20 percent, up from its conventional 12-14 percent support.
The party’s chair—whatever opinion people may of his views or the Icesave dispute—was the politician who most openly and most often stated that Icesave should be taken to court, declaring it the better alternative to negotiating from the beginning to the end.
Meanwhile the ruling Social-Democratic Alliance, the biggest party after the 2009 election, has slumped to fourth place in surveys with 16 percent.
Its policy has been to make Iceland a Nordic welfare state but instead has left the country’s healthcare system in shambles—or at least that’s how respondents seem to interpret it.
The party’s coalition partner, the Left-Green Movement, is suffering an even worse outcome in surveys (9 percent) and it is clear the two parties could not remain in power—at least not in a two-party coalition—were this the outcome of the election.
Voters seem to feel the party has made too many compromises, especially in regards to the European Union negotiations. Environmentalists may also be upset about the government’s large-scale industrial plans.
Both coalition parties are being ‘punished’ for Icesave too.
So what can be done to reverse this development?
Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir announced a while back that she intended to retire from politics after this term and to replace her as chair, the Social Democrats opted for the younger of her two prospective successors, Árni Páll Árnason, who is 46.
In a surprise move, Minister of Industries and Innovation Left-Green chair Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, has decided to step down as chair. He will likely be succeeded by his young vice-chair, Minister of Education and Culture Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who is 37.
The left-wing parties are now making room for the next generation, people who in their late thirties or early forties may bring about a fresh approach to politics. How successful the parties will prove in the coming election depends on the image they project.
The Independence Party has reclaimed its position as Iceland’s biggest party with 33 percent, according to the most recent poll. Its chair, Bjarni Benediktsson, now 43, was 39 when he took over from former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde in 2009.
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, now 37, was even younger, 33, when he was voted chair of the Progressive Party the same year.
Leader of BF Guðmundur Steingrímsson is 41. Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who chairs another new party, Píratapartíið, is 46. Dögun (‘Dawn’) apparently chooses not to have a chair, just equal representatives, but its top candidate, Margrét Tryggvadóttir, is 41.
Most other new parties, including Lýðræðisvaktin (‘Democracy Watch’), are led by older individuals.
Of course being young doesn’t mean that one doesn’t practice old-fashioned politics. Also, older politicians may be young at heart and bring about new ideas.
Even so, I find it a positive development that the next generation is taking over the political scene in Iceland and it will be exciting to observe whether the political renewal will impact the outcome of the April election.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected]