Iceland Mag

3 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Analysis: Populist parties, Talk Radio victorious in snap election

By Staff

  • Bessastaðir estate and the eight party leaders The President of Iceland will give one party leader the mandate to form a coalition government after having met with each personally at his official residence at Bessastaðir. Photo/Vísir.

The undisputed winners of Saturday's snap elections were two new populist parties, backed by the Talk Radio station Útvarp Saga. The People's Party received 6.9% of the vote and 4 MPs, while the Centrist Party, led by former PM Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson received 10.8% and 7MPs. The victories of the two populist parties came at the expense of the governing conservative led coalition, which lost 12 MPs. The Political opposition, led by the Left Greens did significantly worse than polls had suggested, adding only one MP.

Political commentators agree that forming a new stable coalition government represents a major challenge to the party leaders.

Election results 2017

Election results 2017 Major defeat for the center Photo/Iceland Magazine

Several notable changes:

  • A total of eight parties are represented in parliament. More than any time previously. 
  • Voter turnout increased by 2% since 2016: 81.2% voted. 
  • Nineteen new MPs were elected to parliament for the first time. New MPs are more likely to be older, more conservative and male.
  • The average age of MPs who are new to parliament is six years higher than in last elections.
  • The average age of MPs increased by 2.55 years from 46.6 to 49.15 years. The oldest sitting MP is Ari Trausti Guðmundsson of the Left Greens. The youngest MP is Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir for the Conservatives.
  • The share of women in parliament dropped from 30 to 24. The most equal gender representation, with 6 out of 11 MPs women. There have not been fewer women in Parliament since 2007.
  • The Independence Party suffered it's second worst result in history. Three of the party's worst defeats have come after the current chairman Bjarni Benediktsson took the reins in 2009. The party's worst outcome was in 2009: 23.7% compared to 25.2% this year.
  • The Progress Party suffered its worst outcome in the party's 101 year history: 10.7%
  • The Left Greens won it's second best result. Only in 2009 has the party done better: 21.7%.

A new coalition government

Inga Sæland, Arnþrúður Karlsdóttir, Sigmundur Davíð

A populist victory Inga Sæland (left) chairman of the People's Party, Arnþrúður Karlsdóttir (center) Manager of Talk Radio Station Útvarp Saga and Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson (right) chairman of Center Party. Photo/Vísir

Now that the results are in the next task awaiting the chairmen of the parties is the formation of a new ruling coalition. The conservative led center-right coalition was crushed on Saturday. Dogged by scandals the Independence Party lost five MPs, coming in with 25.2 of the vote for it's second worst election outcome in its history. The worst outcome for the party came in 2009 following the 2008 crash. The two junior partners also did poorly. The centrist Bright Future was wiped out, losing all of it's 4 MPs and the liberal Restoration lost 3 MPs. 

This did not stop the chairman of the conservative party, Bjarni Benediktsson, from proclaiming on Sunday that the mandate to form a new coalition government should go to him. Bjarni argued that as the leader of the largest party in parliament he should be given first chance to form a workable parliamentary majority.

A populist-right wing coalition

Sigmundur Davíð and Bjarni Benediktsson
Dogged by scandals Both Bjarni Benediktsson (left) and Sigmundur Davíð (right) were named in the Panama Papers. Photo/Vísir

To form a majority Bjarni would have to secure the support of at least 32 MPs. Since the Independence party currently has 16 MPS this means Bjarni would need to find the support of an additional 16 MPs. The easiest way to achieve this is to secure the support of the two Populist parties the People's Party (4 MPs) and Center Party (7 MPs) as well as the centrist Progress Party (8 MPs). Talk Radio Station Útvarp Saga has already declared its support for this coalition, branding it a "dream government" for the people of Iceland.

Most political commentators agree this is probably an unlikely outcome, as the chairmen of the Center Party and Progress Party are not on the best of terms after Sigmundur Davíð was forced out as chairman of the Progress party following the revelations of the Panama Papers and Sigmundur's decision to form his own party, taking a number of high ranking Progress Party operatives and MPs with him.

If the Progress Party is unwilling to work with the Center Party in government coalition led by the Independence Party Bjarni Benediktsson will find it next to impossible to assemble a majority in Parliament. Other coalition options for the conservatives require the support of one of the leftist parties, the Left Greens, Social Democratic Alliance or Pirate Party, all of which have declared they will not work with the conservatives. 

A broad center left coalition

Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Katrín Jakobsdóttir The chairman of the Left Greens Photo/Vísir

The other option for a coalition government is a broad center-left coalition led by the second largest party in parliament, the Left Green Movement. The political left made modest gains in Saturday's election, as the Left Greens added one MP for their second pest outcome in the party's history. With 16.9% of the vote the party fell woefully short of the 20-30% pre election polls.

The fact that the Social Democrats gained four seats, while the Pirate party lost 4 can also be seen as elections also showed a shift to the left within. The three leftist parties only have 24 MPs between them. Political commentators have argued that the likeliest path to a majority for the Left Greens would be to include the Progress Party and the liberal Restoration, creating a broad center-left majority with 36 MPs.

What will happen next?  

Sigurður Ingi

The two men who hold the keys Sigurður Ingi (left) chairman of Progress Party meets with the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson (right). Photo/Vísir

Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the President of Iceland, meets the party leaders on Monday to gauge their willingness to work with one another. Only after the President has met all party leaders will he grant one of them an official mandate to form a government. Both Bjarni Benediktsson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir said after their meetings with Guðni that they wanted the President to hold off on granting anyone a formal mandate "until the dust has settled", as Bjarni put it at a press conference.

The two chairmen are now in a race with one another to secure the support of the Progress Party, which makes Sigurður Ingi Jóhannesson the man of the hour and the unlikely victor of the elections. 


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