Tomorrow, Icelanders will go to the polls in the country’s municipal elections. In Reykjavík, this means the end of a city council run by comedian Jón Gnarr and his Best Party, which came into power with 35 percent of the vote in June, 2010, securing six of the 15 seats.
Jón and his ‘joke party’ have been written about extensively in the international media so you’ll remember that the party’s ran on a platform including free towels in all swimming pools, a polar bear for the Reykjavík Zoo, Disneyland in the Vatnsmýri area and a ‘drug-free’ parliament by 2020. In reality, Jón and his party usually focused on less trivial issues, human rights being the one he is most proud of.
Jón arrived at a time when Reykjavík had just inaugurated its fourth mayor in two years. Things looked dismal.
Despite being the largest party in Reykjavík, with polls indicating the party would get 37 percent of the vote, Jón announced in October that he would step down at the end of this term and that members of his party would be absorbed by political party Bright Future.
Having served an entire term, Jón becomes just the third Reykjavík mayor since 1982 to do so.
Tomorrow, Reykjavík will have a new mayor, and judging by the polls, it’s fairly clear who that person will be. More than 60 percent of voters support Dagur B. Eggertsson of the Social Democratic Alliance (he is followed by Halldór Halldórsson of the Independence Party with 16.8 percent), according to a poll published by daily Fréttablaðið today.
No surprises there. Dagur is popular.
What did come as a bit of a surprise to some was the increase in support for the Progressive Party this week following comments by Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir, first on the party’s list in Reykjavík, regarding her opposition to the proposed mosque in Reykjavík (she also said that the Greek Orthodox Church—she meant Russian Orthodox Church—would not get a plot). Reykjavík City Council has already allocated a lot for the mosque and construction is set to begin this year.
The comments sparked widespread debate in Iceland. Baldur Ágústsson, candidate in the 2004 presidential elections, wrote in an article entitled ‘Is Sveinbjörg Mayor Material?’ in Morgunblaðið this week that Iceland must learn from the experience of Islam in the Nordic countries and that the religion “should not be able to take root here” (there are around 2,000 Muslims in Iceland) because it was an “unnecessary risk” and “too much was at stake.”
According to an MMR poll published for daily Fréttablaðið on Wednesday, the party has secured 6.8 percent of the vote, up from 5.3 from last week. That’s enough to get one person elected to the city council. Reykjavík City Council has already allocated a lot for the mosque and construction is set to begin this year.
Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson was among those in the party to distance himself from the comments, saying they were not in line with the party’s policy and the youth wing of the party published a statement on their webpage yesterday saying that they completely distrust Sveinbjörg and are against her proposal to withdraw the lot arguing that it is against the core policy of the party, which supports respect for all and states that people should not be discriminated against on the basis of their origin, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, financial situation or political beliefs. The statement was removed from their website half an hour later.
It wasn’t until yesterday—one week after Sveinbjörg’s comments—that Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson responded to the comments and related media coverage, when he had some spare time in between Húsavík and Egilsstaðir on his journey around the country, criticizing opponents for calling the party racist.
Discussions about the mosque in recent days have unfortunately overshadowed some of the key election issues in the capital, some of which Júlíana touched on in her column on Monday, such as affordable housing and whether or not the Reykjavík Domestic Airport should be relocated. There are also other important issues such as public transportation and how to manage a rapidly growing tourism sector.
Tomorrow we’ll find out who the people of Reykjavík choose to run this city.
Zoë Robert - zoe[at]icelandreview.com