Iceland set for leftist govt after snap polls

(From far left) Centre Party Sigmundur leader David Gunnlaugsson, Left-Green Movement leader Katrin Jakobsdottir, Independence Party leader and incumbent Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, Pirate Party leader Hrafn Gunnarsson and People's Party lead
(From left) Centre Party Sigmundur leader David Gunnlaugsson, Left-Green Movement leader Katrin Jakobsdottir, Independence Party leader and incumbent Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, Pirate Party leader Hrafn Gunnarsson and People's Party leader Inga Saeland.PHOTO: REUTERS

Centre-right government ousted after string of political scandals

REYKJAVIK • Icelanders, angry over a string of political scandals, ousted the centre-right government in an election that could pave the way for a young charismatic opposition leader to form a left-leaning coalition, final vote counts showed yesterday.

With the defeat of incumbent Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson's coalition government, his main opponent, the Left-Green Movement's Ms Katrin Jakobsdottir, will likely get a chance to form a narrow majority in Parliament.

Still, the composition of the coalition government remained uncertain, as the President had not yet mandated a party to form one.

The Nordic island of 340,000 people, one of the countries hit hardest by the 2008 financial crisis, has staged a remarkable economic rebound spurred by a tourism boom.

Mr Benediktsson called the snap election last month, after less than a year in government as a scandal involving his father prompted the Bright Future party to drop out of his ruling coalition, citing a breach of trust.

The previous government was defeated last year in the wake of revelations in the Panama Papers about then Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson's use of offshore tax havens.

In addition to the political scandals, a growing sense of inequality and unease about immigration in one of the world's most ethnically homogeneous nations have rattled a democracy known for its political and social stability.

After the final vote count, Ms Jakobsdottir, 41, of the Left-Greens stood to gain a narrow majority in Parliament with three other opposition parties.

The result showed a Left-Green-led coalition was possible if they joined forces with the Social Democrats, the Progressive Party and the Pirate Party as they would hold 32 of Parliament's 63 seats.

Parliament will be split between eight parties. There are two new parties, while one of the parties in the current tri-party government failed to secure enough votes to remain in Parliament.

The Independence Party, the main partner in the current government coalition, lost 4 percentage points from last year's election to land 25 per cent of the vote.

The Left-Greens came in second with 17 per cent, up 1 percentage point from last year's election, and its probable ally the Social Democrats in third with 12 per cent, almost doubling its share.

The new Centre Party, which was formed in September by former prime minister Gunnlaugsson, won 11 per cent of the votes.

The Independence Party has dominated Iceland's politics for decades. It wants to reduce the national debt and cut taxes on individuals and businesses. The party won 21 seats in elections a year ago.

The Left-Greens want to reduce inequality and fund an increase in public healthcare, education and infrastructure spending by hiking taxes for the wealthy and introducing a property tax.

The party came second in last year's election with 10 seats but failed to form a ruling coalition.

The Pirate Party, which last year rode on a wave of anger against the establishment to become the third biggest party in Parliament, stood to get 9 per cent of votes, down from 14 per cent last year.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2017, with the headline 'Iceland set for leftist govt after snap polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe