Switches Parties Two Weeks After Election

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.

Eight Percent of Icelanders Would Vote for Trump

Just under eight per cent of Icelanders who responded to a recent survey stated they would vote for Trump in the upcoming US election if they could cast a ballot, Fréttablaðið reports. Nearly 82% stated they would vote for Biden. Eight per cent did not know who they would vote for and just under 3% chose not to answer the question. The survey was conducted by Zenter for Fréttablaðið newspaper, and its results are in line with other European countries, according to one Icelandic political scientist.

“Icelanders have always supported the Democrats over the Republicans, as Europeans [have] in general,” stated Eiríkur Bergmann, professor of political science at Bifröst University. He adds, however, that Europeans’ distrust of Trump is greater than has ever been the case for any Republican president. “We need to look back to the situation around George W. Bush during the invasion of Iraq to find something close to this. But Bush was still more popular than Trump.”

More Icelandic Men than Women Support Trump

The survey results showed a significant gender difference: 14% of male respondents said they would vote for Trump while only 4% of female respondents stated they would. Support for Trump increased with age, with the exception of the very youngest age group (18-24). Trump enjoyed the most support from Icelanders aged 65 and older, though still just 15% of that age group stated they would vote for him if they could vote in the US election in November.

Centre Party Supporters Most Likely to Vote Trump

Respondents’ political affiliation in Iceland also showed some correlation with their support of each US candidate. Not a single respondent who supports the Social-Democratic Alliance, nor a single supporter of the Progressive Party stated they would vote for Trump. Those who supported the Centre Party were most likely to say they would vote for the sitting US president, though they were still in the minority within their party. While 55% of the Centre Party’s supporters stated they would vote for Biden, 45% preferred Trump.

The Centre Party was formed when a group of politicians split from the Progressive Party in 2017. Eíríkur stated the survey “shows there was a real difference between those who left the Progressive Party and joined the Centre Party at the time,” and points to the split being rooted in ideological differences rather than simple party politics.

The survey was sent to 2,500 individuals between September 23 and 28, and had 1,281 respondents (51%).

City of Reykjavík Spent ISK 2 Million on Working Environment Report

A report the City of Reykjavík commissioned on the working environment within City Council had a price tag of ISK 2 million ($14,500/€12,300), RÚV reports. Centre Party Councillor Vigdís Hauksdóttir has filed a complaint with the Data Protection Authority regarding the appraisal and requested the Ministry of Local Government repeal the report. Some City Council members have described the working environment as “unbearable,” in part due to tension between Vigdís and the secretary of the mayor’s office, Helga Björg Ragnarsdóttir.

Accusations of Bullying

The City Council’s Execute Committee decided to hire psychological clinic Líf og sál to assess the working environment of the City Council and the psychosocial risk factors for staff who attend council meetings on a regular basis. At council meetings this term, Vigdís has turned her back on Helga and submitted minutes in which she criticises Hegla’s presence at the meetings. Both Vigdís and Helga have described the other’s behaviour as bullying.

Vigdís filed a complaint with the Data Protection Authority regarding the assessment, and it has responded by sending detailed questions to city authorities. She has also requested the Ministry of Transport and Local Government revoke the Executive Committee’s decision to have the audit done.

Participation Was Optional

The city council majority stated, however, that participation in the assessment was optional and that all were allowed to withdraw their consent. The assessment was not focused on specific individuals, rather risk factors in the work environment of those who chose to participate.

People’s Party Councillor Kolbrún Baldursdóttir has called the report “utter nonsense” and that the methods used by Líf og Sál were questionable. What was first and foremost necessary, stated Kolbrún, was to teach people some manners, and “that does not cost 20 million.”

Former PM Says BLM “Revives Racism,” Will Destroy Capitalism and the Nuclear Family

Earlier this week, former Prime Minister and founder of the Centre Party Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson wrote an article in which he suggests that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement is a “revival of racism” and in which he claims that this “Western Cultural Revolution […] has all the hallmarks of extremism, including religious rites which people are supposed to undergo in order to prove their subservience to the orthodoxy.” The article has been roundly criticised and inspired a spirited response from BLM supporters in Iceland, who believe Sigmundur Davíð’s beliefs “pose a threat to our Icelandic society, equality, and democracy.”

“A revival of some of the most insane ideas that have ever arisen in the course of human history”

In his article, Sigmundur Davíð characterises BLM as a marketing ploy compelling famous figures, from (unnamed) British actresses to Formula 1 race car drivers, to pledge their allegiance or else lose their job opportunities and/or endorsement deals. He laments that “police officers – white and black – have been shot during ‘mostly peaceful protests’ as most media outlets have chosen to call them,” and takes exception to athletes taking a knee to protest police violence or to show solidarity with the BLM movement and honour the memory of George Floyd, feigning confusion at what “English football has to do with policing issues in Minneapolis.”

He also repeats a characterisation of BLM that he says he’s drawn from “British journalists who’ve bothered to familiarise themselves with the organisation’s policy,” which he says is “to break the back of Western culture and capitalism, the nuclear family, the governmental system, and especially to dismantle the police and the judiciary.”

Sigmundur Davíð continues, likening ‘cancel culture’ with execution, lamenting the criticism that, for instance, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has drawn for her staunchly transphobic viewpoints. “Now in some places, it’s a hate crime to quote the dictionary and its definition of the word ‘woman.’”

“Little by little, it’s become clear that the Western Cultural Revolution revolves around a hatred of Western civilisation, just as the Chinese [Cultural Revolution] revolved around both a hatred of ancient Chinese values and Western culture,” he writes. Or, in conclusion, “The cultural revolution is not just about racism, but also a revival of some of the most insane ideas that have ever arisen in the course of human history.”

‘These notions will only create more separation and deeper injustice.’

The former Prime Minister’s article has drawn swift criticism for its misrepresentations of the BLM movement and its goals, not least from a group collectively identifying themselves simply as “Supporters of BLM,” who wrote a response article in Vísir on Thursday. The article, which was simultaneously published in Icelandic, English, Polish, and Portuguese, says that the ideas put forth by Sigmundur Davíð “pose a threat to our Icelandic society, equality, and democracy” and aims to correct “several misconceptions about the Black Lives Matter movement as well as other human rights battles” in his piece.

“Black Lives Matter addresses the need to end State-sanctioned violence and liberate black people from oppression. Black Lives Matter raises awareness of the structural inequality of the systems Sigmundur Davíð mentions,” states the editorial. “The movement demands that the government, courts of justice, and policing uphold equality and liberty for all regardless of colour, sexual orientation, gender, class or position in society. These are just demands that generally most people agree with.”

“When Sigmundur Davíð attacks the Black Lives Matter movement he is therefore not protecting equality for all. Rather his notions build on safeguarding the current system that only offers up racist, homophobic, and sexist ideology. These notions will only create more separation and deeper injustice.”

The editorial goes on to critique Sigmundur Davíð for framing his criticism of the movement as being about justice, while really, the power structures that he seeks to uphold “cove[r] for and protec[t] men like himself at the cost of marginalised people.”

The editorial ends by calling for solidarity: “All the progress that has been made in the cause of human rights in the world is due to the collective power of the people who have pointed out and fought against inequality.”

Nearly 17% Support Centre Party According to New Survey

The Centre Party is polling at 16.8%, according to a recent survey conducted by MMR (Market and Media Research). Support for the Centre Party has risen by almost three percentage points since the last survey, which was conducted in October. The Independence Party is polling at 18.1%, a decline of almost three percentage points.

Support for the Social Democrats is at 13.2%, down by approximately two percentage points. Support for the Pirate Party, on the other hand, is up by almost two percentage points, or 10.8%.

The government – a coalition of the Independence, Left-Green, and Progressive parties – enjoys 41.5% support. It previously enjoyed 42.2% support. 

1,061 individuals over the age of 18 participated in the survey. The survey was conducted between November 15 and November 21. The results of the survey are listed below:

Independence Party: 18.1% (compared to 21.1% in last poll)
Centre Party: 16.8% (13.5% in last poll)
Social Democrats: 13.2% (15.3% in last poll)
Pirate Party: 10.8% (8.9% in last poll)
Left-Greens: 10.6% (9.7% in last poll)
Reform Party: 9.7% (10.0% in last poll)
Progressive Party: 9.4% (10% in last poll)
People’s Party: 6.3% (8.0% in last poll)
Icelandic Socialist Party: 3.0% (2.6% in last poll)
Other parties: 2.2% total

Filibuster to Cost Parliament ISK 40 Million

Alþingi staff worked 3,000 hours of overtime due to the debate over the EU’s Third Energy Package, RÚV reports. The bill’s debate lasted a record 150 hours, mostly due to filibusters led by the Centre Party (seen above). Parliament is now requesting an additional ISK 40 million ($320,000/€290,000) in funding to deal with the associated labour costs.

Parliament was busier than expected this past spring, mostly due to extended debates on the Third Energy Package, but also due to “extensive and heavy issues which needed addressing in committee,” according to a spending bill distributed to parliamentarians last weekend. The bill is being put forth as Parliament has no reserve fund to deal with the additional labour costs accrued during the period.

The former Secretary General of the Alþingi described the filibuster as “oppressive” to Parliamentary staff.

Parliament Passes Third Energy Package

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

The Icelandic parliament has just passed legislation adopting the EU’s Third Energy Package, RÚV reports. The legislation has seen 150 hours of debate in the chamber, a record for the Icelandic parliament. The bill was passed with 46 votes for and 13 against.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all nine Centre Party MPs, which had led several filibusters on the topic, voted against the bill. The 13 opponents also included Independence Party MP Ásmundur Friðriksson and Pirate Party MP Jón Þór Ólafsson.

Read More: Third Energy Package

Prime Minister Katrík Jakobsdóttir expressed her support for the legislation, saying the matter was well-researched by the government. Addressing the bill’s opponents, she suggested they concern themselves with the new constitution, which outlines clearly that Iceland’s resources are owned by the nation.

As the legislation was passed, police expelled one protester from the chamber gallery who was causing a disturbance. A small group of protesters was present outside the parliament building while the debate stood.

Parliament to Vote on Third Energy Package on Monday

iceland parliament

The final parliamentary meeting on the Third Energy Package finally concluded at 9.00pm on Thursday evening after beginning at 11.30 that morning. Vísir reports that voting on the package will take place on Monday.

Thursday’s debate was slightly more moderate in tone than it had been even the day before, Centre Party MP Ólafur Ísleifsson told reporters. The meeting was the last in a special late summer session to allow parliament to conclude debate and vote on the issue, which has been delayed multiple times throughout the spring term and the subject of multiple Centre Party-led filibusters, some of which have run for as long as 134 hours.

Read More: Third Energy Package

The main goal of the European Union’s Third Energy Package is to strengthen the internal energy market for gas and electricity in the EU in order to decrease the cost of energy. The European Union’s First Energy Package and Second Energy Package have already been agreed upon and adopted by members of the EU and EEA, including Iceland. The Third Energy Package was passed within the EU in 2009.

A decade later, Iceland is the only country that has not agreed to the package. Adopting it has proved controversial among Icelanders, some of whom believe it constituted handing over control of Iceland’s energy to European authorities. However, Iceland is not connected to Europe’s energy network and specialists in European law agree that it would not jeopardise the country’s sovereignty over publicly owned energy resources.  Refusing to sign the agreement would be unprecedented and likely jeopardise Iceland’s membership in the European Economic Area.

Based on their speeches, it’s expected that MPs in the Centre and People’s Parties will vote against implementing the Third Energy Package. In addition, Pirate Party MP Jón Þór Ólafsson has also previously stated that he will not vote in favour of the initiative.

Minister of Education Issues Strong Rebuke of Klaustur MPs

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir is one of the people nominated for Person of the Year.

Icelandic Minister of Education, Science and Culture and Progressive Party MP Lilja Alfreðsdóttir had some strong words about the Klaustur Scandal MPs.

“In their conversation at the Klaustur Bar, it became clear precisely how these MPs think about women,” she wrote on her Facebook page on Thursday morning. “It was truly sad. But even sadder is that these same [MPs] should now, eight months later, still have not come to their senses, but are rather trying to justify their comments. Disappointing that they don’t even have the decency to take a hard look in the mirror. Their comments will be to their lasting disgrace.”

Since it was published, the post has received over 850 likes and been shared 44 times.

Lilja’s post came in the wake of the Parliamentary Ethics Committee’s ruling that two of the six embroiled MPs breached parliamentary ethics with their sexist remarks about fellow politicians. The two MPs found guilty of an ethical breach were Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson and Bergþór Ólason, both of the Centre Party. Both men have contested the ruling.

Lilja was among several female MPs who were the target of sexist and sexually explicit comments made by Gunnar Bragi and Berþór during their recorded conversation at Klaustur Bar last November.

Klaustur MPs Breached Parliamentary Ethics, Committee Rules

Klaustur Bar

Two MPs breached parliamentary ethics with their sexist remarks about fellow politicians at Klaustur Bar last November, according to the Parliamentary Ethics Committee, Morgunblaðið reports. The MPs in question, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson and Bergþór Ólason, both of the Centre Party, have contested the ruling. The Parliamentary Speakers’ Committee has made a final ruling on the matter which will be made public later today.

Six MPs took part in the conversation at Klaustur Bar last November, which unbeknownst to them was recorded and later made public. The remarks of the other four MPs, all of the Centre and People’s Party, were not considered a breach of ethics. The conversation included sexist, homophobic, and ableist remarks about other politicians and public figures, and led to public protests and calls for the MPs’ resignation.

Read More: The Klausur Scandal

“As previously stated, conduct that is considered immoral or inappropriate on behalf of the Parliament can devalue the Parliament and damage its image,” reads the Ethics Committee’s ruling in part. “This may include inappropriate behaviour or disrespect toward a gender, race, or religion. The Ethics Committee does not consider it necessary to analyse every single aspect of the comments. They all share the same root. They are indecent and consist of disrespect toward the gender of the women discussed. The Ethics Committee considers them disdainful and damaging to the image of Parliament, in addition to showing a lack of respect for Alþingi, its position, and its work.”

The Parliamentary Speaker’s Committee met today to discuss the matter and has made a final ruling. The ruling will first be sent to the six MPs in question, and be made public later today.