History professor elected Iceland's new president

Professor Gudni Johannesson has vowed to restore faith in the political system.
Professor Gudni Johannesson has vowed to restore faith in the political system.

REYKJAVIK • History professor Gudni Johannesson won Iceland's presidential election after riding a wave of anti-establishment sentiment, final results showed yesterday, although the vote was eclipsed by the country's eagerly anticipated Euro 2016 football match.

The political newcomer, who won with 39.1 per cent of votes, was trailed by businesswoman Halla Tomasdottir, also without party affiliation, who took 29.4 per cent.

Professor Johannesson decided to run for the presidency only after the Panama Papers leak in April, which detailed offshore bank accounts and implicated several senior Icelandic politicians, including the prime minister, who was forced to resign.

Throughout the campaign, Prof Johannesson emphasised his non-partisan vision of the presidency and vowed to restore faith in the political system after years of public anger towards politicians over scandals and financial woes.

The victory was especially sweet for the academic and political commentator, who has never held public office and has no party affiliation, as he celebrated his 48th birthday yesterday.

Mr David Oddsson, a former conservative prime minister who had been Prof Johannesson's closest rival for most of the campaign, garnered just 13 per cent of votes.

The president in Iceland holds a largely ceremonial position. More important legislative elections are due in autumn. But the outrage that fuelled mass street protests in April and led to the ousting of premier Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson appeared to have dissipated somewhat as euphoria erupted over the Icelandic football team achieving a historic feat in the Euro 2016 football tournament.

Iceland, a North Atlantic island of just 334,000 people, defeated Austria 2-1 on Wednesday to qualify for the last 16 in its first major international competition, and will play England today.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'History professor elected Iceland's new president'. Print Edition | Subscribe