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Iceland Mag

Politics

Iceland's president refuses the PM to dissolve parliament - the president's full speech

By Staff

  • Keep calm President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson during the press conference held directly after his meeting with PM Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson today. Photo/Birgir for Vísir

Following his meeting with Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, shortly after noon today, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the President of Iceland, called for a press conference to outline his decision to refuse a request by the Prime Minister to dissolve parliament. The conference was highly unusual, as the President explained: Meetings between the President and Prime Minister are usually confidential.

In his address at the press conference the President explained that the Prime Minister had in effect requested permission from the President to use the threat of dissolving parliament as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with his coalition partners, the conservative Independence party. Ólafur Ragnar explained that the dissolution of parliament was a serious decision which had to be considered carefully, and that he would not allow the threat to be used as a weapon on political battles or the office of the President to be drawn into power politics. 

According to the sources of the local news site visir.is the Prime Minister is now completely isolated politically, with the members of his own party, the centre-right Progressive party, as well as those of the Independence party, now meeting in his absence to discuss the next steps. It is therefore likely that his request for a signed letter from the President, granting him the power to dissolve parliament, was a latch ditch effort by the PM to regain the political initiative.

Having been rebuked by the President the Prime Minister had left the meeting in a hurry, refusing to take any questions from the media.

The full text of the address of the President of Iceland, translated by Iceland Magazine, can be read  below:

"I had not planned to call to a press conference today here at Bessastaðir. But, I believe it is unavoidable, in light of the announcement made by the Prime Minister earlier today and our meeting here today, that I make my position and my decision on the matter clear to the public.

We spoke on the telephone yesterday, when I was on my way back to Iceland, and we decided that we would meet today at one o’clock. I then received a request, at around eleven this morning, that the Prime Minister wished to come here to Bessastaðir immediately to meet with me, and I decided to grant him that request. I therefore decided to postpone a meeting I had scheduled with the speaker of the parliament of Cyprus, who is here on an official visit.

The Prime Minister’s requested the meeting to hear my opinion, and to request my permission to grant him my approval to dissolve parliament now or at a future date. He was accompanied by officials from the Prime Minister’s office who held a letter to this effect, a letter which he wanted me to sign.

We discussed this matter for some time. I explained my position, which is not only my personal opinion, but the foundation of our democratic system, which is that the President is to make an independent assessment whether the Prime Minister is granted the request to dissolve parliament now or later.

What the President must consider under these circumstances is whether the parties which form the governing majority in parliament support the decision, and whether the dissolution of parliament is likely to be beneficial to the nation and the governance of the country.

He could not assure me of the Independence party’s stand regarding this matter. In light of this I explained to him that I was not ready to grant him his request to dissolve parliament at this time, or at least without having first discussed the matter with the head of the Independence party, or others. 

At the end of the meeting I was not being prepared, here and now, to sign the letter granting the Prime Minister the power to dissolve parliament, nor was I willing to give him the assurance I would do so after discussing the matter with the leaders of other parties, having heard their opinion.  

Dissolving parliament is not only a question of dissolving the sitting parliament, but to determine who will lead the government until an election is held. Unfortunately, there is precedence that it can take a long time, even months, to form a new government. I don’t expect that will be the case, but the President must keep this in mind.

As I consider the request to dissolve parliament I must also consider who will form the government that will lead until the elections, during them and until a new government is formed after the elections. 

After the meeting with the Prime Minister, I have decided and made preparations to meet with the chairman of the Independence Party, and depending on the outcome of that meeting, a second meeting with the speaker of Parliament. I will then decide whether I will meet with the chairmen of other parties. 

It is extremely unusual for the President to meet with the press directly after a meeting with the Prime Minister. One of the rules of our democracy has been that the meetings of the President and the Prime Minister are confidential, and the matters discussed at such meetings are not made public. It was not easy to make the decision to hold this press conference, but as I told the Prime Minister, he had already made it known to the press and the public that he was considering dissolving parliament, and that he would use this as leverage in his negotiations with his coalition partner. With those kinds of public announcements he was dragging the office of the President into the hour-to-hour power struggle within the coalition government. As the Prime Minister was trying to use the threat of dissolving parliament as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with his coalition partner it would therefore have been unreasonable for me not to make my answer publicly known.

I want to emphasize that in the light of these events it is extremely important that we, as a nation, find a happy solution to this matter. A well-functioning government is not just a question of following a certain form, but also to ensure that the nation is reasonably happy with what is going on, and does not feel the need to protest day after day.

It is my sincere hope, and the guiding light I will try to follow, that we can finish this matter in such a manner that will pleased the nation, and that the governance of the country can return to normal. Iceland’s interests and reputation must be secured in a manner which we can all agree upon."

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