EU Domestic Policy

Icelandic Elections: All You Need To Know

The shortest Icelandic government ever has almost come to an end. On the 28th October, Iceland will vote once again for its Althingi, the unicameral parliamentary chamber of the country. It has been only a year since the last elections, which resulted in a three-way coalition government. However, the coalition wasn’t long-lived. Only eleven months later, it collapsed over a scandal surrounding the Prime Minister hiding his father’s involvement in asking for the exoneration of a convicted paedophile.

Icelandic Electoral System

The Althingi has 63 members, which are elected every four years through closed-list proportional representation. That means that citizens in each constituency are presented a list of candidates by parties, without the possibility of indicating preferred candidates.

Iceland’s Parliament, the Althingi, in Reykjavík.

54 of those 63 members of the Althingi are directly elected in the 6 multi-member constituencies of the country. Seat allocation is then determined through the d’Hondt method, which aims to achieve proportional representation of the citizens’ preferences. The remaining 9 seats are known as ‘adjustment seats’. These are awarded to parties who have won at least 5% of the national vote share, in order to ensure an even fairer representation between the votes on a district level and the national share of votes.

Main Parties

The Icelandic microstate has a surprising array of political parties, considering it counts only 300 thousand inhabitants. The party with the most seats is currently the Independence Party, arguably the most successful right-wing party in the Nordic countries. Thanks to its platform of economic liberalism, conservatism and opposition to interventionism, it has garnered the support of Iceland’s large fishing community and businesses.

On the centre-right we can find the Progressive Party. Founded to represent the farmer class, its agrarian and self-defined libertarian positions still resonate the most with the rural areas of the country. Leadership disputes within the party led to the creation of a splinter group called Centre Party, which will be running in the upcoming elections on a very similar platform.

On the left end of the spectrum the biggest party is the Left-Green Movement, a left-wing and green party. Its focus is on democratic socialism, environmentalism, feminism and pacifism. Unlike most of the other left-leaning parties in the country, it opposes EU membership. The other main left-wing party is the Social Democratic Alliance, a centre-left party which is the largest pro-EU party in the country.

There are then the centrist Reform Party, which has a strong Europeanist approach and focuses on green liberalism, and the People’s Party. This last is a populist party the main focus of which is fighting against poverty and corruption, as well as focusing on disabled people’s rights. The party has been accused of xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment, although its leader denies being against immigration. Peculiarly, Icelandic politics also include the Pirate Party in Parliament, which is an outlier in the usual distinction between left and right wing. Ever since its foundation in 2012, it has overhauled Iceland’s political scene with its spectral syncretic politics. The party stands for direct democracy, freedom of information, and civil rights.

Main Issues

The economy is, as always, at the centre of debate during these elections. In particular, the left-wing parties are proposing to increase spending for healthcare and education. Moreover, they plan on hiking corporate taxes, introducing a carbon tax, and cracking down on speculative investments. Worried about putting off businesses from investing in Iceland, as well as about the impact such an expansionary fiscal policy would have on interest rates, centre and right-wing party have been vehemently opposing such measures.

Job creation is also another hot topic at the moment in the country. Right and centre wing parties are aiming to support companies by promoting the traditional Icelandic professions – i.e. fishing, agriculture, and other domestic food industries. On the other hand, a priority of the left-wing is diversifying industry investments and increasing funding for start-up businesses.

Reykjavík

The housing market in the country, and especially in the capital Reykjavík, is also undergoing a severe crisis, with prices higher than they have been in last 50 years. To face it, the Independence Party has proposed to tax subsidies for young people to buy their first home.  Moreover, it supports the introduction of an active rental market in the country, which is currently missing. The Left-Greens, instead, are proposing a communal mortgage bank to guarantee loans to citizens to buy houses, and to increase housing subsidies.

 

Another topic which is always discussed in the country is the environment. Considering the country’s reliance on fishing and fossil fuels, it comes to no surprise that centre and right-wing parties have been very hesitant about adopting heavy green policies, which left-wing parties have not been afraid to do. For example, the Independence party supports a reduction of carbon emissions by planting more trees and cutting carbon emission. However, that is a shallow objective if compared with the Left-Greens’ policies on the matter. These include the objective of making Iceland a carbon neutral country by 2050, eliminating plans for oil production and replacing fossil fuels with renewable resources, and introducing a Constitutional guarantee that natural resources are publicly owned by the nation.

Polls

Icelandic citizens go against the flow compared to the majority of other Europeans when it comes to political sympathies, according to the polls. Contrarily to the trend in Germany, Austria or the Czech Republic (to name a few), the left is actually witnessing a rise in popularity. The Left-Green movement is leading ahead of the vote with 23.3% of the preferences, although closely followed by the Independence Party with 22.6%. The Social Democratic Alliance, the Pirate Party, and the Centre Party are all around the 10% mark, while the Progressive Party stops at 7.5%.

Graph with opinion poll data
Opinion poll, data courtesy of Gallup (13-19 October 2017)

This situation of extreme fragmentation is not unusual in the Icelandic political panorama. In the countries modern’s history, non-coalition governments have been the exception, rather than the rule. However, it does give rise to the question of which parties will form a coalition goverment.

At the moment, it looks likely that the Left-Green Movement together with the Socialist Democratic Alliance will be leading a left-wing government together with Bright Future, and the Reform Party. The Left-Greens have also not excluded an alliance with the agrarian Progressive Party, and possibly with the Centre Party. They have only ruled out a coalition with the Independence Party, due to it being on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum.

Another potential kingmaker is the Pirate Party. Just last year, it was on the cusp of becoming the first Pirate Party in history to become part of a national government in Europe. While its popularity has declined since then, it is still prospected a good result in this election. However, whether the left-wing parties will be able to convince it to join a coalition is uncertain, considering the party’s preference for spectral-syncretic politics. If they did, it would assure them a comfortable majority in the Althingi.

A final option is for the Left-Green Movement and the Socialist Democratic Alliance to form a minority government. Considering the efficiency of consensus politics in Nordic countries, it might be a viable option should they be unable to get a working majority. However, a majority government would obviously be a preferable option in order to be sure to pass reforms.

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Eleonora Di Franco

Law student at the University of York by day, plotting European federalisation by night. Also an aspiring academic.

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