Iceland’s Election: The Centre Cannot Hold?

Left-Greens office in Akureyri (Photo by M. Lanteigne)

In the last few days before Icelanders yet again return to the voting booth on 28 October, the most recent poll by MMR [In Icelandic] suggested that there is still much uncertainty over whether the next governing coalition will stay centre-right in ideology or whether there will be the first leftward shift since Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir of the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) was in office in 2009-13. One prediction which can be made at this stage, however, as that with the weakening of support for major centrist parties, coalition-building may be more complicated for the big players on each side of the political spectrum, especially for the governing Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) or IP.

On one hand, the latest poll suggests that despite numerous trials and tribulations, the IP appears to be hanging on to an unshakeable core base of support, and at 22.9% is back at the top of the listings. However, the party’s erstwhile partners, the centrist, and pro-European Union, Bright Future (Björt framtíð) and Reform/Regeneration (Viðreisn) parties, are still lagging, with BF possibly being unable to cross the five percent threshold required to attain parliamentary seats. One of IP’s previous governing allies, the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn), has also been dropping in popular support, (down to 8.6%), since the departure of its leader, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, to form the breakaway Centre Party [In Icelandic] (Miðflokkurinn) last month. This situation might leave IP unable to form a stable arrangement, even if it does attain the most votes like last year.

Pirate Party supporters at the University of Iceland campus, Reykjavík (Photo by Mingming Shi)

The situation is looking more encouraging for the Left-Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð), which according to the latest census was in second place in voter popularity with just under twenty percent support. This raises the possibility of a potential ‘green-red-purple’ triumvirate between the Left-Greens, the Social Democrats and the Pirate Party (Píratar). However, attempts to form a partnership between the left parties were not successful after last year’s vote, leading to the IP-led administration of Bjarni Benediktsson, so it may be still too early to make predictions about the framework of the next administration, especially given the volatility of recent poll numbers.

As one recent commentary bemoaned, the suddenness of the calling of this election and the perception of ‘nothing new’ in regards to the country’s political climate has resulted in an election being dominated more by personalities than issues. Compared with the previous vote, both large and small parties have had little time to develop platforms and raise funding.

‘Let’s go.’ Left-Green leader Katrin Jakobsdóttir (Photo by Mingming Shi).

There was also much controversy generated after it was reported last week that an injunction had been placed on two news services, Stundin [In Icelandic] (‘Hour’) and Reykjavík Media, by Reykjavík’s District Commissioner which halted further news coverage regarding documentation from Glitnir, the now-dissolved Icelandic bank, at the request of the late institution’s bankruptcy estate. This came after media coverage alleging that Prime Minister Benediktsson had sold assets in the bank very shortly before Glitnir’s insolvency in late 2008, reports which the PM has strongly refuted. In protest of the injunction, the Stundin newspaper was published with a blacked out front page last week.

In short, it is far from certain whether this vote will bring about the political stability many in Iceland have been hoping for, any more than the election last year.