07/05/2007 - D-7
On 12th May next around 200,000 Icelanders are being called to vote to renew the 63 members of the Althing, the only chamber in Parliament. Just a few days before the election the Independence Party (SJ) led by Prime Minister Geir H Haarde in terms of voting intentions in all the polls with around 40% of the vote. This is followed by the main opposition party, the Social Democrat Alliance (SF) which is due to win between 20% and 25% of the vote. The main point concerns the composition of the new government. Political observers discern several possible coalitions: the re-election of the present government, the Independence Party-Progress Party (FF); an alliance of movements on the left and in the centre (Social Democrat Alliance-Left Movement – the Greens (VG) and the Progress Party); or a left/right coalition (Independence Party-Social Democrat Alliance).
The Alliance for Combat (BS) which campaigns for the defence of the rights of the elderly and disabled led by Arndis Björnsdottir withdrew from the only constituency in which she had put candidates forward (North East).
On 14th and 15th April the Social Democrat Alliance held its national congress during which its president, the former mayor of Reykjavik, Ingiblorg Solrun Gisladottir, qualified the last term in office as a troubled period mentioning amongst other things the dispatch of troops to Iraq (which the party is against), the management of retirement pensions and the law governing the media (2nd June 2004 Olafur Ragnar Grimsson placed his veto, for the first time ever in the country's history, against a law on the media approved on 25th May by Parliament; this was aimed against monopolies but was deemed likely to restrict consumers' economic freedom and also to be politically restrictive; the law was finally repealed on 22nd July 2004). Ingiblorg Solrun Gisladottir maintains that the country's prosperity is unequally distributed and has promised to fight against poverty, to reform civil servants' retirement scheme, to increase the number of places in retirement homes and to increase social benefits for families. She hopes to launch Iceland into an economy of knowledge and to develop new technologies. Finally the Social Democrat Alliance recalled that it favoured Iceland joining the EU's euro zone.
When interviewed by the Vidskiptabladid about the partners with whom her party might govern if it won the general elections on 12th May next Ingiblorg Solrun Gisladottir refused to say anything saying that the election results would provide an answer to this question.
On the same weekend the Independence Party also held its national congress. Geir H Haarde was re-elected as leader of the party in the government coalition with 95.8% of the vote and Thorgerdur Gunnarsidottir, Education, Culture and Science Minister was re-elected as Vice-President with over 91% of the vote.
"Iceland has become what the Independence Party promised, the land of every opportunity," declared the Prime Minister, maintaining that over his sixteen years as Head of State the Independence Party had provided prosperity by freeing the economy, by privatising companies and reducing taxation. "We have succeeded in strengthening Iceland's economic base so that the whole world admires us," stressed Geir H Haarde who said he was pleased with the government's economic results: an unemployment level estimated at 2% in the first quarter of the year, a 60% increase in buying power for inhabitants and no debt on the part of the State.
The Prime Minister also indicated that the Independence Party would not join in making promises in the ilk of the parties on the left and recalled that the opposition had recently promisde an increase in State spending. "State spending must not increase more than the growth of the national economy," he repeated. Geir H. Haarde rejected suggestions from the left about the increase in inequality in Iceland, quoting a report from the Statistics Office which compares Iceland with other European states and which states the country is more egalitarian that most of its neighbours.
Finally the Prime Minister stated that he was against Iceland joining the EU ("the worst option" in his eyes), arguing that the country would no longer be able to take the best advantage of its position if it did join. He does admit however that belonging to the EEA has played a major role in the country's economic success.
The beginning of the campaign witnessed a focus on environmental themes but socio-economic issues soon took their place at the heart of the debate. The Welfare State and the elderly are at the centre of the campaign. "We have to decide with regard to these elections, whether we continue on the road of progress that we have opened up or not, or whether we impede progress and enter a period of stagnation," declared the Prime Minister in a newspaper interview with the Vidskiptabladid. In his opinion the Icelanders have to decide whether they want the Independence Party to continue to lead the country and therefore remain at the head of government. The Prime Minister also noted that tax reductions had been a more minor issue in the 2007 electoral campaign than they had been in the previous general elections on 10th May 2003, saying that the Independence Party hoped to continue to reduce taxes.
Aiming to rally the whole of society the Independence Party positioned itself in the centre during this electoral campaign whilst the Social Democrat Alliance has had to move to the left in the hope of rallying the support of the electorate of the Left Movement-Greens, since the ecologist party still enjoyed a comfortable leader over the Social Democrats just a few weeks ago. The Greens have to face competition on the part of the Icelandic-Living Earth Movement, an ecologist organisation which claims to be "100%" green, created on 22nd March last and led by journalist Omar Ragnarsson. The party is requesting the immediate halt to any industrial projects over the next five years in order to reveal the real effects of industry on the environment. The party does however lie to the left of the political scale highlighting the defence of children's rights, the elderly, the disabled as well as immigrants living in Iceland; it is also fighting for access by all to better education and professional training.
According to the latest poll published on 6th May by the daily Frettabladid, the Independence Party should win the elections on 12th May next taking 42.5% of the vote, ie 28 MPs. It is due to be followed by the Social Democrat Alliance with 24% of the vote (16 MPs), the Left Movement/Greens (16%and 10 MPs), the Progress Party (9.5% and 6 MPs) and the Liberal Party (F), 5.4% and 3 MPs. The Icelandic Living Earth Movement is due to win 2.1% of the vote. The clear decline of the Left Movement-Greens over the last few weeks (the party was credited with 28% of the vote just a month ago) seems to have been mostly to the benefit of the Social Democrat Alliance.
Although the Independence Party has always demonstrated a preference for a government rallying only two political parties, just a few days before the election Geir H Haarde has said that he will not rule out any type of coalition.