78% Disapprove of New Prime Minister

Bjarni Benediktsson, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, and Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson

Nearly four of every five people surveyed said they disapproved of Bjarni Benediktsson, leader of the Independence Party, ascending to the office of the prime minister. According to a new poll by Prósent, only 13% said they approved of Bjarni, Heimildin reports.

Coalition reshuffling

Bjarni became prime minister a week ago following a cabinet reshuffling. Katrín Jakobsdóttir had resigned as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement a week earlier to campaign for the office of president. Bjarni was prime minister briefly in 2017, but had otherwise been finance minister from 2013 to 2023. The Progressive Party rounds out the three-party coalition with elections set for next year when the term ends.

Online petition

78% of those surveyed by Prósent said they disapproved of Bjarni, with young people more likely to disapprove than older people. Women were also more likely to disapprove than men. In addition, 73% of those surveyed said they disapproved of the coalition government reshuffling. 14% said they approved.

An online petition was started after Bjarni’s return as prime minister, which has now been signed by 41,240 people expressing their disapproval of him. The number of signatures amounts to approximately 15% of all voters in Iceland.

Coalition’s Strength to Be Tested by Vote of No Confidence

Inga Sæland, leader of the People's Party

Inga Sæland, leader of the People’s Party, will submit a motion of no confidence directed at the coalition government next week. The cabinet of the Independence Party, the Progressive Party, and the Left-Green Movement was reshuffled last week following Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s announcement that she would resign as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement to run for president.

“We’re planning a motion of no confidence against the government as a whole,” Inga told Mbl.is. “There are three ministers in this cabinet who are particularly skilled at evading the law in this country.”

Motion against Svandís on hold

Inga has discussed the matter with the other opposition parties in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament. Following meetings of the parliamentary groups on Monday afternoon it should become clearer whether Inga’s motion will have broader support.

Inga had pledged to submit such a motion against Svandís Svavarsdóttir before a reshuffling of the cabinet last week that saw Svandís move from the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries to the ministry of infrastructure. The Parliamentary Ombudsman had found that Svandís had not acted in accordance with law when she temporarily stopped the whaling season last summer. Inga said it was unclear if she could refile the motion with Svandís now at a different ministry.

Bjarni under fire

The other two ministers Inga mentioned are Bjarni Benediktsson, the new prime minister and leader of the Independence Party, and Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, minister of social affairs and labour and interim leader of the Left-Green Movement. The Parliamentary Ombudsman concluded last year that Bjarni had not confirmed to guidelines as minister of finance during the privatisation process of Íslandsbanki bank. Nearly 40,000 people have signed an online petition expressing their lack of support for Bjarni’s leadership of the coalition government.

In Inga’s opinion, Guðmundur Ingi has broken his promise of establishing an office of an ombudsman for the elderly. “No opposition MP I’ve talked to has confidence in this coalition government,” Inga added.

Bjarni Returns as Prime Minister

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson, current minister of foreign affairs and leader of the centre-right Independence Party, will become prime minister in the reshuffled coalition government following the departure of Katrín Jakobsdóttir from the office, RÚV reports.

Katrín announced last week that she would resign as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement to campaign for the office of president, with presidential elections scheduled for June 1. This threw the future of her party’s coalition with the Independence Party and the centrist Progressive Party into uncertainty. A parliamentary election is scheduled for September next year, but the opposition has called for a snap election in light of these developments.

Bjarni’s return following privatisation scandal

At a press conference in Harpa concert and conference hall today, Bjarni announced that he would become prime minister. Bjarni was previously prime minister during a short-lived coalition in 2017 and finance minister for most of the period from 2013 to 2023. He resigned as finance minister in October of last year after the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that his role in the privatisation process of Íslandsbanki bank, which had been nationalised after the 2008 banking collapse, had not confirmed to guidelines.

He became minister for foreign affairs instead, with fellow party member Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir becoming finance minister in his stead. Þórdís will now move back to the ministry for foreign affairs, where she served previously.

Embattled Svandís switches ministries

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, leader of the Progressive Party, will now become finance minister. Embattled Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir, who was set to face a motion of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, this week, will become minister of infrastructure. In January, the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that she had not acted in accordance with law when she temporarily banned whale hunting last summer.

Her fellow Left-Green Movement MP, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, will take her place in the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries.

The changes will be formalised at a meeting of the cabinet with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson at 7 PM tonight.

Whaling Suspension Inauspicious for Coalition Partnership

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

In a panel discussion on Vísir yesterday, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated that the temporary ban on whaling was inauspicious for the partnership between the coalition parties. A legal opinion commissioned by Fisheries Iceland has concluded that the decision to temporarily halt whaling goes against the law.

“A huge political decision”

Yesterday morning, the leaders of the three governing parties were invited to a panel discussion on Vísir. The leaders discussed the recently released report on the sale of Íslandsbanki; the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries’ decision to stop whaling; and immigration affairs.

Regarding the suspension of whaling, Bjarni Benediktsson stated that the decision had surprised him: “We’ve been clear in our conviction that the decision should be reconsidered.”

Bjarni emphasised that the issue did not simply revolve around economic or animal welfare issues; there was a tradition of whaling in Iceland and putting an end to it amounted to “a huge political decision.” Bjarni noted that the decision, as a political issue, should have gone before the parliament. “I think it’s a very strange turn of events that it happens like this a day before whaling was supposed to start.”

Bjarni also noted that, during the formation of the coalition government, the three parties had discussed whether an agreement could be reached on putting an end to whaling – but no such agreement was reached. “When whaling is stopped in this manner, I am alarmed; I am not satisfied.”

A difference of opinion

Bjarni further noted that the position of the Left-Green Movement was that whales should not be hunted; the Left-Green Movement believed that it was inhumane to kill whales so it was not exactly the methodology that was at issue. “I have a feeling it’s not just about the whaling methods; I have a feeling it’s about whaling itself.”

“How are you going to consider the welfare of a whale you’re going to kill?” Bjarni asked.

Finally, the Finance Minister did not rule out the possibility that the whaling issue would affect the partnership of the coalition parties. When the panel’s moderator, Heimir Már Pétursson, asked if the issue would affect the continuation of the government cooperation, Bjarni refused to say. “But I don’t think this is particularly auspicious for our partnership in governance.”

Stands with Svandís’s decision

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir responded to Bjarni’s comments by saying that she stood by Svandís’ decision. “First of all, these three parties have different views on whaling. Regardless, the minister received a formal opinion from a professional council on animal welfare. Having received this opinion, it would have been almost impossible for the minister not to act.”

Legal opinion finds the ban “unconstitutional”

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of Fisheries Iceland (SFS), discussed a legal opinion that SFS recently commissioned from the law firm LEX.

Heiðrún stated that the legal opinion had found that Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s decision to temporarily stop whaling was unlawful. Heiðrún called for further justification from the Minister.

“We have said from the beginning that this unceremonious and unprecedented decision by the minister goes against the law, and now there is a legal opinion that substantiates our claim,” Heiðrún told RÚV.

“The legal opinion confirmed that the minister went against the freedom of employment and property rights provisions of the constitution; went against proportionality; went against the so-called code of governance; and, during the conduct of the council of specialists, the provisions of the administrative law were not followed.”

When asked if SFS intended to take the case further, Heiðrún replied that she hoped that the opinion would lead to the minister providing a more thorough explanation of her legal rationale. Over a week ago, SFS requested documents detailing the basis of the decision.

“We still haven’t received any word on these documents. As a result, I’m concerned that the preparation of this decision was poor and reprehensible, which is why it’s imperative for a well-reasoned legal opinion to be published in support of the minister’s far-reaching decision.”

Support for PM’s Left-Greens Hits Near-Decade Low

According to a new Gallup poll, support for the government continues to decline. Countrywide support for the Prime Minister’s Left-Greens hasn’t been lower since the lead up to the 2013 Parliamentary elections.

Criticism over deportation of asylum seekers

A new Gallup poll (“Pulse of the Nation”) indicates that Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement has lost more than a third of its support since the last Parliamentary elections. The poll was conducted between May 2 and May 31. The Left-Greens saw the most significant decline since the previous poll was conducted; the party has recently been criticised over plans to deport an inordinate number of asylum seekers.

Only 8.1% of respondents stated that they would vote for the Left-Green Movement if elections were held now, which is two percentage points lower when compared to the last poll – and 4.5% less than the Left-Green Movement received during the previous elections. Support for the party hasn’t been lower in nine years, RÚV reports.

Support for the People’s Party has also declined compared to the previous Parliamentary elections (although the numbers have remained nearly unchanged since the last poll); 6.4% of respondents said that they would vote for the People’s Party, compared to 8% in the last poll. The party made headlines after screenshots of obscene text messages from MP Tómas A. Tómasson made the rounds on the internet. Chairman Inga Sæland subsequently stated that the party would “stand by” Tómas and that the controversy would not affect his role as MP.

The Independence Party still the most popular

The Independence Party remains the most popular political party nationwide, according to the poll, with just over 20% of respondents declaring support. These numbers suggest decreased support from the last Parliamentary elections, however, where the Independence Party received 24.4% of the vote.

Fresh off of successful municipal elections, the Progressive Party continues to enjoy increased backing since the last Gallup poll. The party stands out among the governing coalition as it appears not to have lost support from the previous elections (17.5%).

The three governing parties are now polling at roughly 44%, which is about three percentage points lower than last month.

Continued support for the opposition

The three largest opposition parties have all gained support from the last Parliamentary elections: the Pirate Party is polling at 14.7%, the Social Democratic Alliance at 14.1%, and the Reform Party at 9.5%.

The Socialist Party is polling at 5% and the Centre Party at 4.3%. Over 7% were unwilling to specify support for one political party over another, and 8% stated that they would not vote or cast an empty ballot.