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President Will Not Seek Re-election

By Steindor Gretar Jonsson

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.
Photo: Golli. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson has announced that he will not seek re-election.

Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, president of Iceland, has announced that he will not seek re-election this year. A new president will be elected this summer, RÚV reports.

In his scheduled new year’s address Monday, Guðni announced that he would step down after two terms in office, having served eight years in total. Elected after an eventful campaign in 2016, Guðni had stated that he would serve three terms at most, or 12 years. He said that he carefully considered running for a third term, but that in a democratic society it is not healthy for a person to consider themselves irreplaceable. “I came to the conclusion that it would be better to follow my heart,” he said.

A surprise rise to the presidency

Elections will take place on June 1 and the new president’s term will begin on August 1. So far, no one has officially announced their candidacy, although a number of people are rumoured to be considering a bid. A low threshold is in place for anyone wanting to run, as they only need to collect 1,500 signatures of support to be eligible.

Nine candidates were in the running when Guðni was elected in 2016. The previous president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, had announced on January 1 that he would not seek re-election. The spring of 2016 saw major political turbulence in Iceland with the revelations of Prime Minister’s Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s offshore tax haven holdings in the Panama Papers, leading to his removal from office. As a scholar of the Icelandic presidency, Guðni appeared frequently on live television to analyse the situation. President Ólafur Ragnar briefly entered the race again, citing political turmoil. As support for Guðni to run mounted, he entered the race and Ólafur Ragnar withdrew his candidacy again in the wake of Guðni and former Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson deciding to run.

Guðni received a plurality of 39.1 percent of the votes. In 2020, he handily won re-election with 92.2 percent.

A popular and liberal president

Analysts describe Guðni as a successful and popular president, with an approval rating around 80 percent. He championed liberal viewpoints and didn’t have any major setbacks during his time in office. Guðni remains a professor of history at the University of Iceland, but has been on leave during his service. He could therefore return to academics after his term ends.

Only one president in Iceland’s history has served for fewer years than Guðni. Sveinn Björnsson, Iceland’s first president, was elected when the country became a republic in 1944, but died while still in office in 1952 having served just over seven years.

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