In a recent interview with RÚV, Independence Party chairperson Bjarni Benediktsson claimed that he will retire from political life if he loses the contest for party leadership.
The statements come in light of Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson’s recently announced intentions to seek Bjarni’s position.
The Independence Party’s National Convention is generally held every two years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not been held for four and a half years. Guðlaugur’s challenge is perhaps a sign of needed change in a party whose leadership has remained frozen by recent events.
Guðlaugur himself has stated that very little separates his and Bjarni’s platforms. “It’s primarily about the personalities,” he stated to RÚV, which could be a reference to discontent over Bjarni’s involvement in several corruption scandals, the most recent of which involved him in his role as Minister of Finance in the sale of Íslandsbanki shares.
Bjarni has been active in politics since 2003, when he was elected as a representative in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament. Since then, he has also served as Iceland’s prime minister and is now both chairperson of the Independence Party, Iceland’s centre-right party, and Minister of Finance.
In his long political career, he has become something of the embodiment of establishment politics. Some see Guðlaugur’s challenge as a chance for reform within the party.
If Guðlaugur is to lose his attempt at seizing party leadership, there has been talk of political consequences for him and the party, with some suggesting the possibility that he be removed from his current ministerial seat.
Eva Heiða Önnudóttir, a political scientist, has stated to Morgunblaðið that “[i]t would be very controversial and very difficult. If it had not come to this contest for leadership, then I would think that it would have been almost impossible. Guðlaugur Þór has such strong support in the party that I believe that there would be severe political consequences to remove-ing him as a minister.”
The Independence Party National Convention will convene next Saturday, November 5.