MP Birgir Þórarinsson, who won a seat for the Centre Party in Iceland’s parliamentary election last month, announced on Saturday that he has defected to the Independence Party. Birgir stated that Centre Party members carried out an “organised attack” against him during the election campaign and that his disagreements with the party stretch back to the Klaustur scandal of 2018. While the Independence Party has welcomed Birgir into its ranks, others have accused him of deceiving voters.
Centre Party down to two seats
Birgir announced his decision to leave the Centre Party and join the Independence Party in a column published in Morgunblaðið newspaper on October 9. His move leaves the Centre Party with just two seats in Alþingi, and the Independence Party, already the largest party in the chamber, with 17 of the total 63 seats.
“Well, this stretches back, all the way back to my criticism of the so-called Klaustur scandal, and the reaction I received to that, but I was fully willing to let these thing go,” Birgir told RÚV. The situation changed this year, however. “When we are getting coordinated for the election, an organized attack is literally launched against me during the election campaign and it continues into the election itself.”
Former colleagues cite “backstabbing”
It is rare for politicians to switch parties so shortly after an election, and Birgir’s decision has had mixed reactions from the public as well as his colleagues. Karl Gauti Hjaltason, Centre Party chairman in the Southwest constituency, described Birgir’s decision as backstabbing and wondered how he had been able to campaign for the Centre Party if he felt so badly over an incident that happened three years ago. Centre Party Chairman criticised Birgir for campaigning “under false pretences” and subverting democracy. He added that he considered it peculiar of Birgir to join a party that he had criticised harshly in the past – and that former Centre Party Deputy MP Erna Bjarnadóttir had followed Birgir in the move to the Independence Party.
Pledges to stand behind campaign issues
Independence Party Chairman Bjarni Benediktsson welcomed Birgir to the party in a Facebook post published on Saturday. Birgir says that despite his shift in allegiance, he will not abandon the issues he has fought for in the past. “I campaigned on certain promises and I have certain ideals and issues I speak for in Parliament, and promises to voters in the election campaign, and I will, of course, work to advance those issues and I intend to stand wholeheartedly behind them,” he stated.
The day after his column was published in Morgunblaðið, Birgir appeared in an interview on Christian radio network Lindin. In the interview, he praised his former colleagues in the Centre Party for giving him free rein to speak with “Christian values.” Notably, he expressed disappointment in his new party members who voted in support of an abortion bill that was passed in 2019.