This week, Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson confirmed that he is considering his candidacy for Chair of Iceland’s Independence Party – at the party’s National Convention next weekend. Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, who has served as the leader of the Icelandic Independence Party since 2009, has stated that it would be “unusual to change the party leadership” when so little time has elapsed since the formation of a new coalition government.
A brief history of the Independence Party
Iceland’s Independence Party was formed in 1929 through a merger of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. The party has won the largest share of the vote in every election except 2009 (when it fell behind the Social Democratic Alliance). Furthermore, every Independence Party leader has at some point held the office of Prime Minister. Bjarni Benediktsson, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, has served as the leader of the Icelandic Independence Party since 2009.
The party commonly hosts its National Convention every two years. Owing to the pandemic, however, the Independence Party has not held a National Convention for four and a half years. In the run-up to this year’s convention, Minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson – who first became involved with the Independence Party in 1987 when he was elected to the board of the National Youth Organisation – surprised not a few party members, and ordinary citizens alike, by confirming that he was considering running against Chairman Bjarni.
Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Guðlaugur voiced his concern for the state of the party: “Many have encouraged me to run. Their message is always the same: they’re worried about the state of the party. They – and this goes for me, too – don’t accept our current position … and without the necessary support, it will be more difficult for us to implement our policy and our ideals.”
According to RÚV’s sources, Guðlaugur has entertained the notion of running for Chairman “for some time … having privately and publicly laid the foundation for his candidacy by ensuring that his supporters hold the reins in certain key positions that allocate seats at the National Convention. Meanwhile, Bjarni has focused his attention on the state finances during troubling times.” Approximately 2,000 party members will be offered seats at the Convention, who would then be eligible to vote in the event that Guðlaugur decided to throw his hat in the ring.
“Come at the king, best not miss”
Writing for RÚV, reporter María Sigrún Hilmarsdóttir, citing aforementioned sources, states that Guðlaugur Þór is aware that he’s got “one shot in the gun,” so to speak, and that now may be the time; Guðlaugur Þór defeated Minister Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir during the Independence Party’s primary elections in Reykjavík last summer, and if Guðlaugur Þór fails to announce now, it would be “a sign of weakness and a lack of courage.”
Supporters of Chairman Bjarni Benediktsson are “prepared for the fight,” according to RÚV’s sources. Some of them are, however, surprised that Guðlaugur hadn’t taken “more conventional routes” in declaring his candidacy: announcing his intentions sooner and embarking on a “nationwide campaign of meetings to gather support and shore up his position.”
Bjarni’s supporters also maintain that the current Chairman has yet to reach his prime – and that his best years are still ahead of him. They also note that “any talk of loss of popular support is empty given that the political landscape has altered beyond recognition over the past years … given that 10 parties are now in the running.” Bjarni’s supporters also note – as Bjarni himself has noted – that the Chairman enjoys much greater support among his constituency compared to Guðlaugur.