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Iceland - General Elections

Historic Victory for the Left

Historic Victory for the Left

27/04/2009 - Results

The Social Democratic Alliance (SF) clinched an historical victory on 25th April by easily pushing ahead in the early general elections in Iceland. Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir's party, in office since 1st February last, won 29.79% of the vote i.e. 20 seats in the Althing, (the only Chamber in Parliament), (+2 in comparison with the previous election on 12th May 2007). Its ally, the Left-Green Movement (VG) led by Steingrimur Sigfusson, won 21.68% of the vote and 14 seats (+5). The outgoing government won 51.47% of the vote i.e. the absolute majority clinching 34 of the 63 seats in Parliament.
The Independence Party (SJ) which has dominated Icelandic political life for the last fifteen years and which won the last five general elections (1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007), achieved the lowest score ever in its history: 23.7% of the vote and 16 seats (- 9). The Progress Party (F), a centrist agrarian party led by Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, won 14.80% of the vote and 9 seats (+2). Surprise came with the entering in Parliament of the Citizens' Movement (O), founded by economist Thor Saari, which was very much involved in the demonstrations last autumn and which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Geir H Haarde (SJ) on 26th January. It won 7.22% of the vote and will have 4 seats, a result that very well may just be a side effect of the present economic crisis. Finally the Liberal Party (XF), a party that lies to the right on the political scale and led by Gudjon Kristjansson, won 2.22% of the vote and will not be represented in Parliament.
Turn out rose to 85.1% i.e. slightly more than the figure recorded during the previous elections on 12th May 2007 (+ 1,5 point). The percentage of women amongst those elected has increased: the new Althing comprises 27 women, i.e. 43% of the members – it lay at 31.7% in the last term in office.

"Although this result is indeed good these general elections will have been historic because it was the first time (since the country's independence in 1944) that the left has won the majority. Our time has come. I am greatly moved, proud and humble about the moment we are experiencing, our historic victory, a victory for the Social-Democratic Movement," declared the outgoing Prime Minister and leader of the Social-Democratic Alliance, Johanna Sigurdardottir as the first results were announced. "The country is settling the score with neo-liberalism and with the Independence Party which was at the helm for far too long. People want ethic change, this is why they voted for us," she added.
The Icelanders therefore chose to continue with the Social-Democratic Alliance and their Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir who they nickname "Sainte Johanna" because of her dedication to the poorest. The outgoing Head of Government succeeded in convincing them that she was best placed to learn from the crisis and bring Iceland back to growth. "Liberal values have dominated for far too long. The divide between rich and poor has increased. The Social Democrats have changed values orienting them in a more social manner towards justice and equality; they are the values which will guide the coalition if it is re-elected," she said during the electoral campaign.

"She is not a good orator but her authenticity and her credibility are effective so that she is loved by the population," indicates political analyst Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson. The Prime Minister clearly indicated that she wanted to see her country enter the European Union as quickly as possible and for it to adopt the single currency within the next four years. "We shall defend our resources, Iceland's sovereignty over these and our fishing and agricultural policy," repeated Johanna Sigurdardottir during the campaign. The fishing sector represents 36.6% of all of Iceland's exports. Discussions over the launch of membership negotiations with the EU may however be more difficult than was at first thought given the result achieved by the Left-Green Movement, which is mainly eurosceptic and a probable SF partner in the government after this election.

"The Independence Party, in power since 1991 and until the beginning of the year, is going through a difficult period. It is clear that voters are now sceptical about it," indicates political analyst Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson. Led by Bjarni Benediktsson since the end of March the party is indeed believed to have been the main craftsman in the liberalization of the economy and also believed responsible for the collapse of the banking sector in autumn 2008 which precipitated the island to virtual bankruptcy. Once an extremely prosperous country Iceland is experiencing an inflation rate of between 15% and 18%, unemployment, previously inexistent is nearly at 10% of the working population, the national currency the krona, has lost half of its face value against the dollar and the euro and finally the IMF is forecasting a 10% contraction of the GDP in 2009, which would be the Icelandic economy's worst result since the country's independence in 1944. SJ's failure to win these elections was therefore almost inevitable.

67 year old Johanna Siguardardottir, former air hostess on the national airline Loftleidir (which became Icelandair) between 1962 and 1971, former Social Affairs Minister (1987-1994), who then became the first Icelandic woman head of state on February 1st last is greatly appreciated by her countrymen. Elected for the first time to parliament in 1978 and elected Deputy Chair of the Social Democratic Party in 1984, Ms Sigurdardottir then failed to take its leadership. The following year she founded Thjodvak (National Movement) before re-integrating the Social Democratic Party in 1997. She succeeded Geir H Haarde as head of government on 1st February last. Divorced Johanna Sigurdardottir also became the first homosexual Prime Minister in the world.

"I shall defend the weakest, the handicapped, the poor, the most vulnerable in our society with all my might," declared the Prime Minister on 24th April during a televised debate, adding "but we have to reduce spending". In the wake of the historic victory by the leftwing Johanna Sigurdardottir is due to start negotiations to form her future government. She may retain the same majority as in the previous government but also, according to Jacques Mer, former Ambassador to France in Iceland, (1988-1992), she may extend her coalition to the Progress Party, which shares her opinions about Iceland's accession to the EU – she may even open up the coalition to the Citizens' Movement.

Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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