After Major Scandal, Iceland’s Ruling Party Stays On Top
On October 28, Iceland held a snap parliamentary election. Surprisingly, given the scandals plaguing the governing coalition, not much changed. The ruling right-wing Independence Party was still the largest party in the Althing (Iceland’s Parliament), and the Left-Green movement was still the second largest party.
This came as a surprise, given recent opinion polls and the scandals plaguing the Independence Party. In fact, the only reason for these elections are due to scandal.
The scandal in question is about current prime minister Bjarni Benediktsson. Specifically, Bjarni’s father (note: when it comes to people from Iceland, they are referred to by their first name). His father wrote a letter asking for a family friend (who is a convicted pedophile) to be legally rehabilitated. That isn’t the issue; the bigger issue is that Bjarni and his party concealed it. One of the parties in Bjarni’s governing coalition, the centrist Bright Future, left the coalition, forcing snap elections.
In the wake of the scandal, it seemed that the Left-Green Movement, led by Katrín Jakobsdóttir, would become the largest party in the Althing, most likely making Katrín the next prime minister. Up until a few days before the election, the Left-Green Movement was likely to get just under thirty percent of the vote (winning a plurality of the vote, since Iceland is a multi-party democracy). Support dropped significantly in two days before the election.
In the end, although they gained a seat (and the Independence Party lost five), the Left-Greens were still the second largest party in the Althing. It could have been worse, however. Bright Future didn’t make it past the threshold to be in the Althing. The Pirate Party, which was the third largest party before the elections, lost four seats (becoming the sixth largest party). The center-right Reform Party also lost three seats. Finally, while the Progressive Party became the third largest party in the Althing and kept the same number of seats that it had previously, it lost voters.
There were two big winners in the election, however. The first winner is the Social Democratic Party, which had been in an electoral slump since Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir’s premiership. They went from three seats to seven and increased their vote share by six percent. The second winner is former premier Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, whose Centre party gained seven seats and ten percent of the vote.
Since no party gained an outright majority, coalitions will need to be formed. It is unknown what coalition will be formed, or who will be prime minister. Given the recent scandals surrounding the Icelandic government (mainly the recent scandal surrounding Bjarni, the inability of parliament to ratify the new constitution, and Sigmundur’s name repeatedly came up in the Panama Papers, forcing his resignation in 2016), it’s unclear how stable the next coalition will be.