Iceland’s Election: Three’s a Crowd?

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Icelandic flags in Reykjavík 101. (Photo by M. Lanteigne)

About three weeks after Iceland’s latest election, the process of building a new government coalition continues, with the focus shifting to discussions between the centre-right Independence (IP) and Progressive Parties and the Left-Green Coalition (VG). Thus far, the talks have reportedly been progressing well, and if said negotiations are successful, the end result would be an unusual ‘grand coalition’ across left-right political lines. Such a configuration has not been seen in the country since the 1940s, under considerably different political conditions. The potential advantage of such a coalition would (in theory) be a greater chance of stability as opposed to the previous failed talks between VG, the Pirate Party, the Progressives and the Social Democratic Alliance (SDA), since this coalition would hold 35 seats in the sixty-three seat Alþingi (Parliament).

However, the ideological differences between the Left Greens and its two potential partners are considerably greater than in the previous coalition. This fact has not been lost among some VG members worried about the political costs of linking with IP and the Progressives given the controversies which had affected both parties in recent years.

A vote taken amongst the eleven Left-Green MPs resulted in nine in favour of coalition talks with Independence and the Progressive Party, and two against, and the youth wing of VG also released a statement [In Icelandic] criticising the talks given the scandal which brought down the last IP-led government. As well, a recent report [In Icelandic] by Vísir suggested that ‘dozens’ of VG members have left the party in protest over the coalition talks.

One issue which seemingly will not be as divisive across party lines as before, at least in the short term, will be the question of engagement with the European Union. This was because one major pro-EU party, Bright Future, failed to gain enough votes to be awarded seats, and another, the Reform/Restoration (Viðreisn) Party, also lost support in last month’s vote. The left-wing SDA, like Viðreisn, stated that it would not insist on a referendum regarding EU membership as a condition for coalition participation. There also appear to be no signs that differences over EU relations are affecting the current talks between VG, IP and the Progressives.

There is no indication as of yet as to which members of which party would receive which cabinet posts should a coalition another the trio be successfully formed, however, it is suggested that the leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, would become Iceland’s next Prime Minister under the agreement, perhaps in exchange for key posts being given to IP. In a recent interview [In Icelandic] with the Icelandic network RÚV, Ms. Jakobsdóttir stated that her party would continue to distinguish itself from Independence in regards to policies, and that there were differences between the Left-Greens and the two centre-right parties on issues, such as taxation policies, which would need to be overcome.