Halla Tómasdóttir Elected President of Iceland

Halla Tómasdóttir will be the seventh President of Iceland, RÚV has declared.

The 55-year-old businesswoman and CEO of B Team had a significant lead in all districts this morning when 191,065 votes had been counted. She had received 65,669 votes, a 34.6% share 0f the total votes, leading second-place Katrín Jakobsdóttir, former Prime Minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement, by a significant margin.

“I think people want to discuss our society and take part in it,” Halla said at her campaign celebration in the early hours this morning. “I feel the energy of the people who have joined me on this journey.”

Halla surged in recent weeks

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who was ahead in the polls for much of the campaign, had 47,398 votes, or 25%. Director General of Iceland’s National Energy Authority Halla Hrund Logadóttir followed with 28,636 votes, or 15.1%, with comedian and former mayor Jón Gnarr and Professor Baldur Þórhallsson in fourth and fifth place.

I “want to congratulate her and I know she’ll be a good President,” Katrín said when Halla’s victory was becoming clear.

Three of the six voting districts had completed their count at the time of this writing, while many absentee ballots were yet to be counted. RÚV analysts, however, considered it highly unlikely that the results could change, as Halla Tómasdóttir’s lead was significant.

Halla was only polling at around 5% in early May, but gained traction in recent weeks. She previously ran for President in 2016, coming in second with 28% of the vote.

A closer election expected

Outgoing President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who triumphed over Halla in 2016, said last night that her message had obviously been well received by the voting public. He added that Katrín had faced tough questions about how she entered the race when she resigned as Prime Minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement in the middle of her term to run for President.

“Most of those who spoke publicly about the election race expected it to be closer,” Guðni said. His term comes to an end on August 1, when Halla and her family move into Bessastaðir, the President’s residence on the Álftanes peninsula. She will be the second woman to hold the office after Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who was the first woman in the world to be democratically elected as president in 1980.

“I only see one team in Iceland and that’s Icelanders,” Halla told Iceland Review in an interview during the campaign. “[We] can make Bessastaðir the home for our national compass.”

Drop in Overnight Tourist Stays

tourists on perlan

Overnight stays in Icelandic hotels and other accommodations were 491,000 in April, according to Statistics Iceland. That is a 13% drop from April 2023 when 563,000 overnight stays were recorded, Vb.is reports.

Supply of rooms increased

Foreign tourists accounted for the vast majority of the overnight stays, or 76%. This resulted in a 15% drop in foreign tourist stays from April last year. Hotel stays by Icelandic citizens also dropped by 4.7% between years. The supply of hotel rooms increased, however, with 3.1% more rooms available than April last year.

Outside of these statistics, an estimated 61,000 foreign tourists stayed in unregistered accommodation through online short-term rental platforms. Some 10,000 were estimated to have stayed with friends or family, while 3,000 lodged in camper vans.

Tourism still booming

2024 is still set to be the largest year for tourism in Iceland since 2017, with the exception of last year. According to the Icelandic Tourism Board, the USA and UK account for around a third of all tourists in Iceland.

Tourism in Iceland has been growing steadily since the Covid-19 pandemic derailed the industry in 2020. Tourism had become a pillar of the Icelandic economy following the banking crisis of 2008 and the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption of 2010.

Response Level Lowered as Volcanic Eruption Stabilises

Lava and plumes from the May 2024 eruption in Reykjanes

The national police commissioner has downgraded the Civil Protection Emergency Level due to the Sundhnúksgígar volcanic eruption in the Reykjanes Peninsula. The situation is now considered more stable than when the eruption began on Wednesday, RÚV reports.

Decrease in lava flow

The level has been downgraded from Emergency Phase to Alert Phase as the eruption has stabilised and lava flow is contained to a specific area, according to scientists with the Iceland Meteorological Office. The first four hours of the eruption saw a great deal of lava flow, which has since decreased.

The nearby town of Grindavík was evacuated as the eruption began and no one is believed to have stayed there overnight, according to Úlfar Lúðvíksson, chief of police. He added that the area has been closed off from people attempting to approach the volcanic fissure, according to a RÚV report.

The Blue Lagoon, a popular spa and tourist destination in the area, will reopen tomorrow, Mbl.is reports.

Similar to the last eruption

Geophysics Professor Emeritus Páll Einarsson said that the eruption seemed to have stabilised. “This eruption looks to have found a path similar to what the last eruption did after the first day before it continued on for 50 days,” he said.

It’s unclear, however, how long this eruption will continue. “The weather hasn’t offered us good visibility to see the fissure so we’re relying on measurements to show us what the situation is,” Páll said.

Icelandair Lays Off 82 Employees

Keflavík airport Icelandair

Icelandair, one of Iceland’s major airlines, laid off 82 employees Wednesday due to weaker demand in travel to Iceland, Vb.is reports. Bogi Nils Bogason, Icelandair CEO, said that the layoffs will not affect Icelandair’s schedule. Staff in Iceland and in European offices were let go, but no flight crew members.

Volcanic impact

The company went through a growth face after the Covid-19 pandemic with new hires and new aircraft. “The growth has slowed down, so we had more space to focus on efficiency and optimisation, and that’s where our focus is right now,” Bogi said.

Icelandair is expecting its earnings to drop in 2024, in part due to the ongoing seismic and volcanic activity in the Reykjanes peninsula. “When the demand for flights to Iceland has dropped, Icelandair has used the flexibility of our route map to focus more on cross-Atlantic flights, but prices have gone down there,” Bogi said.

Bullish on the long-term outlook

He adds that Iceland has proven an expensive destination for tourists. “We’re trailing in our competition with Norway and Finland, for example, and this has been the development for the last few months,” he said. “A tourist’s expenses after they arrive in Iceland have been high enough so that Iceland has fallen behind.

Overall, however, Bogi was bullish on Icelandair’s financial position and the long-term outlook on tourism in Iceland.

Icelanders Head to the Polls

Icelanders will vote for a new President today. Polling places have opened and will remain open until 10 PM tonight in larger municipalities. Nearly 270,000 people are eligible to vote and must bring personal identification, such as a passport or driver’s license, to receive their ballot.

Two frontrunners, new poll suggests

Former Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and businesswoman Halla Tómasdóttir are neck and neck according to the latest poll. Halla has surged in recent weeks and is polling at 24% according to a Gallup poll, RÚV reports. Katrín is polling at just under 26%, a statistically insignificant lead, the pollster noted.

The election takes place in one round, so the new President could be elected with only around a quarter of the total vote. Halla Hrund Logadóttir is polling third with 19%, Baldur Þórhallsson fourth with just under 15%, and Jón Gnarr fifth with 8%. A total of 12 candidates are in the running.

New term begins in August

Outgoing President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson announced on 1 January that he would not seek reelection after serving two terms in office. He will serve until 1 August, when the newly elected President assumes the office. The President has limited political powers, but carries out ceremonial duties and is seen as having significant influence in Icelandic society.

Minister Questions Police Pepper Spray Use

Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson has called for an investigation into police decision making when pepper spray was used against protesters in downtown Reykjavík yesterday, Vísir reports.

Pro-Palestine protest

The protest in support of Palestine took place outside a meeting of government ministers and was organised in part by the Iceland-Palestine Association. Police said they were forced to use pepper spray as protesters obstructed ministerial vehicles and refused to disband, but videos show pepper spray use after the road was cleared and against protesters who appeared to be cooperating. Ten protesters were injured and a police officer was hit by a ministerial vehicle.

Right to protest

Guðmundur Ingi is handling the Prime Minister’s duties while Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson is meeting with Nordic heads of government in Sweden. He announced in a Facebook post that he had tasked the Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office with looking into the protocols and decisions of the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police. “They led to force being used against citizens who were exercising their democratic right to protest while the cabinet was meeting,” Guðmundur Ingi wrote.

Fish Processing Facility Closed, Dozens Laid Off

thorlakshofn iceland

A fish processing facility in the small southern town of Þorlákshöfn will be closed down. Vestmannaeyjar-based Ísfélagið, the oldest fishing operation in the country, will lay off their entire workforce in Þorlákshöfn this year, a total of 35 people, Mbl.is reports.

Blow to the community

In recent decades, several towns that rely on the fishing industry have seen facilities shut down or jobs moved away. Gestur Þór Kristjánsson, a councilman in Ölfus, the municipality Þorlákshöfn is a part of, said that the town is built around fishing and seafood processing and that Ísfélagið closing their facility is a blow to the community.

“We think it’s sad that a company like this is leaving the community,” he said. “This was one of the biggest fisheries operations in Þorlákshöfn.”

Hope for new jobs

Ísfélagið laid off 9 people in Þorlákshöfn earlier this year and the remaining 26 staff members learned on Wednesday that they should expect to be laid off. Most of them are residents of Þorlákshöfn. “I hope they get new jobs here,” said Gestur. “There is not a lot of unemployment here, so hopefully they can keep working here. They have worked here for a long time and have roots in the community.”

Director of Ísfélagið Stefán Friðriksson said that the foundation of their Þorlákshöfn processing disappeared after lobster fishing was stopped in 2021 in order to conserve the lobster population. Ísfélagið has operations remaining in Vestmannaeyjar in the south of Iceland, Siglufjörður in the north, and Þórshöfn in the northeast.

27 Injured in Bus Accident

Icelandic coast guard

A bus with 27 people in it crashed in the south of Iceland yesterday. All 26 passengers and the driver were injured, Mbl.is reports, with some injuries considered “major” by police.

All transported to hospitals

The bus rolled over on Rangárvallavegur in the vicinity of Stokkalækur shortly before 5 PM yesterday. All aboard were transported to hospitals, some to Landspítali in Reykjavík, but others to Hella or Selfoss.

The Icelandic Coast Guard dispatched two helicopters to the scene to transport 7 people to Reykjavík. A large number of ambulances arrived on the scene as well.

Cause to be determined

Everyone aboard the bus was an Icelandic citizen. “We’re going over their injuries,” said Jón Gunnar Þórhallsson, chief superintendent with the South coast police. “It ranges from minor to major injuries.”

The bus was operated by GTS buses. The cause of the accident has yet to be determined.

Police Catch Runaway Pig

Police in the northeast of Iceland announced today that they’ve caught a runaway piglet following a search, Vísir reports. However, they have not been able to identify the owner of the piglet so that it can be brought back home.

The police received a report on a piglet or a small pig roaming around in a backyard in Kjarnagata in Akureyri, a town in the north of Iceland. Officers arrived at the scene so they could attempt to catch the pig.

Pigs sometimes kept in homes

There was no information available on how the piglet escaped. Pigs are farmed in Iceland, but are occasionally kept in homes. The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority has warned that keeping piglets in homes requires great care. Disease control is paramount and treatment of the pigs must be humane. Individuals must notify the authority if more than two adult pigs or more than twenty piglets are being housed together at any given time.

The police posted a photo of the pig on Facebook in an attempt to reach its owners or those who might have further information on the piglet’s living situation.

Grocery Store Alcohol Sales Illegal, Minister Affirms

Food prices

Hagkaup, a chain of grocery stores, has announced that customers can order alcohol online and collect in store, starting next month. Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson believes that the chain is breaking the law by doing this, Vísir reports.

Legal grey area

The Icelandic state has had a near-monopoly on retail alcohol sales, but is not able to ban foreign-based shops from online sales. Such shops have become increasingly active, operating in a legal grey area where they accept “international orders” while delivering alcohol right away to the customer from local stock. The European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement, which Iceland is a party to, allows for this.

“I don’t like it,” Willum said when asked about Hagkaup’s plan. “As the Minister of Health I must look at the issue from a public health standpoint and the larger context. We have a state monopoly because it’s the preferred way of selling this problematic product while safeguarding public health and this needs to be protected.”

Police have been criticised for not cracking down on online sales. “I think that people should follow the law and the police need to approach the issue on those grounds,” Willum said.

Coalition split on the issue

Willum is a member of the Progressive Party and his coalition partner Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and leader of the Left-Green Movement, also opposes Hagkaup’s plan. The third party in the coalition, the right-leaning Independence Party, wants to liberalise alcohol sales to a greater degree, according to Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, Minister of Justice.

“It’s been my opinion that we should create a proper and clear environment for these online sales of alcohol,” she said. “It’s important to note that this is already permitted through the EEA Agreement. That only applies to foreign online shops and I think that’s an untenable situation which leads to discrimination in the market.”

She has said that she aims to change the laws on alcohol sales in the near future. “The leader of the Left-Green Movement and the Minister of Health have voiced their opinion and I think it’s no secret that their parties don’t like the idea of online sales. We in the Independence Party, however, have pushed for the liberalisation of this market.”