14 people have already publicly announced that they are running to be the next President of the Republic of Iceland in this June’s election. This means theoretically that the next President could be elected with less than ten percent of the votes.
Icelandic presidential elections do not have a second round of voting, which means that when there are a lot of candidates, the winner can be elected with a relatively small proportion of the electorate having voted for them.
People who turn 20 this year have lived their entire lives under the same president, as Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was voted into office five terms ago, in 1996. At that time, Iceland had been a member of the EEA for about two years and was under the second government of Davíð Oddsson.
According to law, the upcoming presidential election was announced with three months’ notice, on March 11. Presidential hopefuls must then submit their applications formally at the beginning of May, with no fewer than 1,500 recommendations, and no more than 3,000. This means that the number of candidates could yet go up or down.
Though it is possible that the next president could be elected with a record low number of votes, there has actually only been one Icelandic president to date who was elected with more than 50 percent of the vote the first time they stood. That was Kristján Eldjárn in 1968, Vísir reports.
Traditionally Icelandic presidents have sat for a maximum of four terms of four years each—though the current head of state has sat for five terms. There have therefore only been five Presidents of the Republic to date, since full independence in 1944.
The president is head of state and her/his main role is to promote and represent Iceland and Icelandic values at home and abroad. The president has to sign all new laws into effect and refusal to do so theoretically sends the bill to a public referendum. No president before the current one had ever refused to sign a bill, and experts were divided on whether it was even constitutional to do so. Similarly, no president has ever refused a request to liquidate parliament and call a general election—until Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson did so this month.
Everyone can agree that Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has changed the role of president and given it a new political dimension that it had never had under any of his predecessors. He is a controversial, though widely popular figure as a result. This year’s presidential election could therefore justifiably be called the most important presidential election in Iceland to date.