Halla Tómasdóttir Elected President of Iceland

Halla Tómasdóttir will be the seventh President of Iceland, RÚV has declared.

The 55-year-old businesswoman and CEO of B Team had a significant lead in all districts this morning when 191,065 votes had been counted. She had received 65,669 votes, a 34.6% share 0f the total votes, leading second-place Katrín Jakobsdóttir, former Prime Minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement, by a significant margin.

“I think people want to discuss our society and take part in it,” Halla said at her campaign celebration in the early hours this morning. “I feel the energy of the people who have joined me on this journey.”

Halla surged in recent weeks

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who was ahead in the polls for much of the campaign, had 47,398 votes, or 25%. Director General of Iceland’s National Energy Authority Halla Hrund Logadóttir followed with 28,636 votes, or 15.1%, with comedian and former mayor Jón Gnarr and Professor Baldur Þórhallsson in fourth and fifth place.

I “want to congratulate her and I know she’ll be a good President,” Katrín said when Halla’s victory was becoming clear.

Three of the six voting districts had completed their count at the time of this writing, while many absentee ballots were yet to be counted. RÚV analysts, however, considered it highly unlikely that the results could change, as Halla Tómasdóttir’s lead was significant.

Halla was only polling at around 5% in early May, but gained traction in recent weeks. She previously ran for President in 2016, coming in second with 28% of the vote.

A closer election expected

Outgoing President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who triumphed over Halla in 2016, said last night that her message had obviously been well received by the voting public. He added that Katrín had faced tough questions about how she entered the race when she resigned as Prime Minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement in the middle of her term to run for President.

“Most of those who spoke publicly about the election race expected it to be closer,” Guðni said. His term comes to an end on August 1, when Halla and her family move into Bessastaðir, the President’s residence on the Álftanes peninsula. She will be the second woman to hold the office after Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who was the first woman in the world to be democratically elected as president in 1980.

“I only see one team in Iceland and that’s Icelanders,” Halla told Iceland Review in an interview during the campaign. “[We] can make Bessastaðir the home for our national compass.”

Katrín and Halla Neck and Neck in Most Recent Presidential Poll

Halla Hrund Logadóttir, Halla Tómasdóttir, and Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Just two days until Iceland’s presidential election and Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Halla Tómasdóttir are neck and neck in Maskína’s latest poll, released today. Both received 24.1% support in the poll, conducted between May 27 and May 30. This presidential race has been a close and exciting one, with a record number of candidates, several of whom still appear to have a shot at the presidency. The poll was conducted for Vísir, Stöð 2, and Bylgjan.

Katrín’s following shrinks, Halla’s grows

While Katrín’s following dropped slightly from Maskína’s last poll, released on May 23, Halla Tómasdóttir’s rose significantly. The third-place candidate, according to the poll’s results, is Halla Hrund Logadóttir, with 18.4%. Halla Hrund also saw a rise in her following compared to last week’s poll. The top three candidates are followed by Baldur Þórhallsson with 15.4% support, Jón Gnarr with 9.9% support and Arnar Þór Jónsson with 5.0% support. The remaining six candidates have a combined 3.2%.

Many voters decide last minute

Ólafur Þ. Harðarson, professor emeritus in political science who has decades of experience leading research on Icelandic elections, stated that this Presidential race is the most exciting one since Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was narrowly elected in 1980 to become the first democratically-elected female head of state in the world. Polls have shown significant shifts in following in recent weeks, and according to Ólafur, research has shown an increasing number of voters make up their minds last-minute.

Read more about Iceland’s 2024 presidential candidates.

Presidential Frontrunners Neck and Neck

Halla Hrund Logadóttir, Halla Tómasdóttir, and Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Presidential candidates Halla Hrund Logadóttir, Halla Tómasdóttir, and Katrín Jakobsdóttir all enjoy over 20% voter support according to the latest Prósent poll conducted for Morgunblaðið. All three measured between 20.1% to 21% support, a statistically negligible difference considering the margin of error for all three figures lies between 18.1% to 23.2%. The closeness in the running makes for an exciting election day on June 1, where a handful of votes could potentially determine the outcome.

The polling took place between last Tuesday, May 21 and yesterday, May 26. Halla Hrund scored highest at 21% while Halla Tómasdóttir enjoyed 20.2% support and Katrín Jakobsdóttir 20.1%. Katín’s support waned slightly as compared to the previous week’s poll, while both Halla Hrund and Halla Tómasdóttir gained following. The fourth most popular candidate in the poll is Baldur Þórhallsson, with 16.9%, followed by Jón Gnarr with 11.4% and Arnar Þór Jónsson with 6.4%.

Respondents were not only asked who they plan to vote for but also who they believed would win the election to become Iceland’s next president. Nearly 45% believe that Katrín Jakobsdóttir is most likely to win the election, double that of the next candidate, Halla Hrund. Fewer believed that Baldur or Halla Tómasdóttir would win the election than said they would vote for those candidates.

Fewer voting in advance

Advance voting stations have been open since May 3 in Iceland, and over 16,300 have already voted, more than 10,600 of them in the capital area, RÚV reports. That is fewer than voted in advance in Iceland’s last presidential election, in 2020. However, it bears noting that the last election took place in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, when more people aimed to avoid crowds on election day. The date of the presidential election, which used to take place at the end of June, has also been shifted to the beginning of the month, making it likely that fewer voters will be away on summer vacation on election day.

Read more about the five highest-polling presidential candidates.

Lost Icelandic Presidential Ballots Recovered in Madrid

municipal election Skorradalur - Skorradalshreppur

Absentee voting in Iceland’s upcoming presidential election has not gone according to plan in the Canary Islands, where a significant number of Icelandic emigrants live, RÚV reports. Around 80 Icelandic citizens showed up to vote on Gran Canaria, where only 15 ballots had been received.

Voting on Gran Canaria was then postponed until yesterday, but when the ballot package arrived in the mail, it had been opened and all of the ballots had been removed. The ballots were later found at a DHL sorting station in Madrid. They are expected in Las Palmas today.

Does not impact trustworthiness of elections

Even if some ballots have been lost on their way to the Canary Islands, Kristín Edwald, the director of the National Electoral Commission, say it does not impact the trustworthiness of the elections. When an absentee vote is cast, “[t]he ballot itself is put in a ballot envelope, with that envelope there’s an accompanying letter signed and stamped by the scrutineer,” Kristín explained. “The scrutineer also maintains a special registry of who voted via advance ballot: name, kennitala [ID number] and address, where they voted and when they voted.”

Kristín adds that different ballots are used for advance voting than for voting on election day. “So it’s not like a ballot that looks exactly like the ones used during the presidential election next June 1 disappeared.”

1.8% of Icelandic citizens live in Spain

According to Registers Iceland, there were 902 Icelanders living in Spain at the end of 2023, representing 1.8% of the nation. The institution does not provide details on how many of them live in the Canary Islands. They are also a popular vacation spot for Icelanders, with direct flights between Iceland and the islands available year-round.

Baldur Runs for President

Baldur Þórhallsson, professor of political science

Baldur Þórhallsson, professor of political science at the University of Iceland, announced his candidacy for president of Iceland today, Vísir reports.

In a meeting at Bæjarbíó theatre in Hafnarfjörður, Baldur was introduced by his husband, actor and media personality Felix Bergsson. “We can’t sit by anymore and ignore your words of encouragement,” said Baldur in his speech. “We’re going to answer the call loud and clear and go for it.”

Many candidates in the running

Baldur’s candidacy has been rumoured for weeks. A Facebook group to encourage Baldur and Felix to run was founded at the beginning of March by Gunnar Helgason, an actor and creative partner of Felix. The group already has over 18 thousand members.

Earlier this week, Halla Tómasdóttir, a business person, CEO of B Team and a previous candidate for the office, announced her candidacy. Candidates who have already announced include Agnieszka Sokolowska, Arnar Þór Jónsson, Axel Pétur Axelsson, Ástþór Magnússon, Húni Húnfjörð, Sigríður Hrund Pétursdóttir and Tómas Logi Hallgrímsson.

Election set for June

On New Year’s Day, President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson announced his decision not to run again in the election, set for June 1. He was elected in 2016 with 39% of the vote. Halla also ran in 2016, coming in second with 28% of the vote.

The president is head of state in Iceland and the role is mostly ceremonial, although it comes with limited political powers according to the constitution. A number of people have signed up online to collect the 1,500 necessary signatures of supporters to be allowed to run for the office, despite not having publicly announced their candidacy, with the deadline set at April 26.

 

How do I become president of Iceland?

Guðni Th. Jóhannesson outside the Bessastaðir Presidential Residence

Looking for a well-paid job in Iceland, which includes a spacious residence on the Álftanes peninsula and a fancy car with the exclusive number plate “1”? 

The race for the Icelandic presidency is on, and a job vacancy starting August 1, 2024, just opened up. But what are the requirements to run for president in Iceland? Read on to find out whether you’re a good fit!

Icelandic citizenship & being at least 35 years of age

If you think you need to be born in Iceland to become president, as is customary in many other countries around the world, there is good news!

Candidates are not required to be born in Iceland but must have Icelandic citizenship. For people who immigrated to Iceland, obtaining Icelandic citizenship is generally possible after living and having permanent residence here for seven years. There are multiple fast-track options to become an Icelandic citizen, like being a Nordic citizen or being married to an Icelander. You can check out all options here.

Another prerequisite is reaching the minimum age of 35 on election day, you know—life experience and all. 

Collecting a minimum of 1,500 signatures

If you fulfil these requirements above, then you can start collecting endorsements for your presidential candidacy. Luckily, this does not require collecting horrendous sums reaching millions of dollars like in the US elections. Each candidate must turn in at least 1,500 (up to 3,000) endorsements (basically signatures of support), which are proportionally divided by the number of voters in each quarter of the country. Each voter can only support one candidate.

Iceland has four voting quarters: 

  • Southern quarter: Minimum number of “signatures” is 1,233 and maximum number 2,465.
  • Western quarter: The minimum number of “signatures” is 56 and the maximum number is 112.
  • Northern quarter: Minimum number of “signatures” 157 and maximum 314.
  • Eastern quarter: The minimum number of “signatures” is 54 and the maximum number is 109.
Election Quarters Iceland
Voting Quarters in Iceland, graphic provided by Lands­kjör­stjórn (Island.is)

All of these endorsements are collected online via Island.is or old school via signatures on paper, which should include each supporter’s kennitala (Icelandic social security number) for easy verification. After the endorsements have been collected, the candidate turns in a notice of candidacy and their collection of endorsements to the National Electoral Commission.

The commission reviews each collection of endorsements after the deadline on April 26, 2024, and they announce the candidates 30 days before election day. In case there should be only one candidate, that person will be president without any election taking place.

This year, the presidential election will be held on June 1, 2024.

Read our 2018 interview with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson here.

Leadership of Independence Party to be Contested?

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.

To the Vote

OUT OF THE EXACTLY

60 RESIDENTS OF SKORRADALUR, 

47 ARE ELIGIBLE TO VOTE.

In 1910, there were 203 municipal councils in Iceland. Now there are fewer than half that number. During the 20th century, following centuries of economic stagnation, Iceland finally industrialised. It was later than other countries in Europe, but it happened in half the time. As people streamed to urban areas, rural municipalities lost inhabitants, and towns grew. In 1911, the greater Reykjavík area had roughly 15,000 inhabitants, around 18% of the total population. Today, that number is 240,000 – and 64% of all the residents of Iceland. 

Having lost much of their tax base, many municipal councils are now in dire financial straits, struggling to find the funds to keep up the services they are required by law to provide. Minister of Local Government Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson has made it his mission to streamline municipal councils and presented a heavily-contested bill that would have required all municipalities to have a minimum number of inhabitants, forcing them to merge if they did not. This drew the ire of most regions in the country. The number he named as the minimum requirement was considered obscene, a preposterous idea to require municipalities to reach that size in the next few years. 

That number was 1,000 people. 

Municipal elections were held across Iceland this spring, and mergers once again became a topic of discussion. While increased requirements for bureaucracy, budgets, education, and services to inhabitants have forced several smaller municipalities to merge, the change is more fundamental than that: it requires a change in the way most Icelanders think about their immediate community. 

I grew up in a small town in West Iceland. When I was a kid, the town merged with some neighbouring rural localities to form the Borgarbyggð municipality of nearly 5,000 km2 of land and just under 4,000 people. What was formerly 13 different municipalities is now a single entity, with its headquarters in the largest town of Borgarnes.

Only a few kilometres away, there is a municipality of just 60 residents that has remained independent: Skorradalur. When I think about it, I don’t really know a whole lot about what’s going on there, so I do what any self-respecting journalist would do in my situation – I call my mom. 

A former member of the Borgarbyggð council, and possessing both a keen interest in genealogy and family ties to most farms in the  region, she would prove a key ally in figuring out the answer to my question – why do 60 people in a small valley cling to power over their own affairs, when municipalities ten times their size struggle to keep up with the requirements of such a project? 

My mother’s first suggestion? To call my ophthalmologist. 

Out of the exactly 60 residents of Skorradalur, 47 are eligible to vote. One of these 47 happens to be my former ophthalmologist and a friend of my parents. She tells me she’s not really involved with the local government but gives me a few names of people on the council, noting which ones like to talk and which like to talk a little too much. I also find out the name of the person chairing the Skorradalur electoral committee. I give him a call to let him know we’d like to pay a visit on election day. He stops me abruptly: “I’m helping a sheep in labour, I’m going to need you to call me back. It’s lambing season, you know!”

Permission to monitor the proceedings secured, I wake up to a bright and sunny election day. I walk over to my local polling station to cast my vote in the Reykjavík municipal elections before I leave town for the day. As soon as I drop it in the ballot box, I head out and jump in the car with Iceland Review’s photographer – we’re going west. 

Skorradalur is a deep valley centring on an even deeper lake. At around 17 kilometres, it is the longest in Iceland. Even though there are only 60 official residents of the valley, Skorradalur is saturated with summer houses, which dot the banks of the lake and stretch all the way up the mountains on either side. Uncharacteristically for Iceland, large swathes of the valley are covered in thick forest.

We park the car by the local reforestation society’s offices, the makeshift polling station. Unlike the elementary school where I cast my vote, there are no signs pointing the way. Everyone voting here knows where to go. The polling station opens at noon, but when we get there, the electoral committee is still setting up. A current member of the council is busy piling a table high with cakes, cheeses, strawberries, chocolate, and coffee. We’re here to gauge the local atmosphere and get to know the community, so I try to start a conversation. After dithering about and awkwardly asking some of my pre-prepared questions and receiving half-hearted answers, I decide it’s time to deploy my secret weapon. I walk up to the oldest person in the room, the chair of the electoral committee, who hadn’t had time for a chat the previous day due to the lambing season. 

“You know, I’m actually from around these parts. I think you might know my mother, Guðrún.” 

It’s as if I’ve flipped a switch. No longer an intrusive journalist from Reykjavík, I receive a warm smile as the chair of the electoral committee tells me that his grandfather and my great-grandfather used to be thick as thieves. 

Davíð Pétursson has lived at Grund farm his whole life, and his father before him. It turns out that no one is better equipped to give us a sense of the importance of the municipal council for the region than Davíð: he’s been involved in every election there since 1961. “But the book goes back further, it was my father who bought it,” he says as he pulls out a notebook from 1938, detailing the election proceedings and results each four-year interval since. Alongside his work as a farmer, Davíð held the now-defunct position of hreppstjóri (district commissioner) and was the chair of the local council for decades. He isn’t a member anymore, but his son, Pétur, has had a seat for a few terms now, following in his ancestors’ footsteps. 

“Have you heard about the worm?” 

“Excuse me?”

“The worm in the lake. A young woman from around here found herself in possession of a gold coin. She’d heard that if you put a worm on the gold, it would grow. She found a coffer and placed her coin under a worm. Sometime later, she opened it and found that the worm had grown with the gold. This unnerved her and she threw everything in the lake: the coffer, the worm, and the coin. But the worm kept growing and got so big it reached both ends of the lake. Its hump will sometimes reach out of the lake, but if it ever reaches so high that you can see Dragafell mountain between the worm and the lake, that’s when you know Ragnarök is pending.” Oh, that worm. 

“Did you sort things out with the committee? Is everything legal?” someone chimes in. The committee turns a little sheepish. “It’s their ‘estimate’ that it won’t be an issue,” he answers. This is the first time that someone mentions the new election legislation that took effect this year. It won’t be the last. 

“It’s in shambles, really.” 

“These politicians have no idea what they’re doing.” 

“All it takes is one person to file a complaint!” 

The new laws require that an electoral committee be made up of people with no familial or financial ties to council members. In this rural community of 60 people, that excludes pretty much everyone. They’d had the idea to switch electoral committees with the neighbouring municipality, but the law requires that members of the electoral committee have legal residence within the municipality. So they’re doing it like they always have, crossing fingers that no complications will arise. 

“And then they moved the date up!” It turns out people from Reykjavík really don’t know what they’re doing because, as I’ve heard again and again – It’s lambing season! 

Ewes don’t give birth according to a schedule, which means that in the spring, farmers and their families work around the clock assisting lambs into the world. Being on the municipal council never used to be a full-time job. That’s why, historically, elections never took place until late May or June. For the five council members of Skorradalur, that means that the increased demands of modern-day local government come at the expense of time at their other job, time with the sheep, or time off.

 

Voting in Skorradalur is a little different from Reykjavík. Not only are the refreshments much better (any at all is an improvement!) but there are no parties and no lists to choose from. Since no party has expressed particular interest in governing the municipality, every single person eligible to vote is also automatically standing for election. Out of the region’s 60 inhabitants, 47 people are Icelandic citizens of sound mind and body and over the age of 18. In theory, any one of them popular enough has a chance of being voted into office and thus being required, by law, to serve on the municipal council for the next four years. The only people allowed to bow out are senior citizens and people who have already fulfilled their duty to Skorradalur. 

A voter wanders in and finds a cup of black coffee and a seat to wait his turn. I lean over to ask him if the thought of waking up tomorrow with a seat on the municipal council is an enticing or a frightening thought. He lets out a cynical grunt. “I don’t think I’m at risk.” I ask if people campaign for a seat on the council or if it’s the reverse: are people pleading to be let off the hook? “I haven’t been going out of my way to be mean to my neighbours if that’s what you’re asking,” he says. “But you sort of know who’s up for the job.” I hesitate a little before mentioning the m-word, but bravely forge ahead.

“Any talk of a merger?”

This gets him going. 

“If I wake up tomorrow as municipal council director, that’s the first thing I’m going to do. It’s insane that they haven’t done it already, years ago. Utter nonsense to keep such a small entity running. We have no leverage in any sort of negotiations, no one bothers to talk to such a small municipality.”

I was surprised to get such an unfiltered response. I hadn’t even told him who my mother was. 

He drains his paper cup of coffee and gets up. It’s his turn to vote. 

I think I’m getting the hang of how conversations work here. Call it what you will: rediscovering my roots or getting in touch with my ancestral line of taciturn farmers, I walk up to a determined-looking woman. “Do you come from around these parts?” I ask. She responds fiercely: “Born and raised, I’ve lived in Hálsar all my life.” Jackpot. If anyone can explain the mystery of Skorradalur’s struggle to stay independent, a life-long valley resident must have the key. I get straight to the point. “Do you think there should be a merger?”

“Of course, they should have done it years ago. We should have started the negotiations right after the last elections.” She and another local explain to me that when the other municipalities in the region merged, Skorradalur stayed out and that, in their opinion, that was a mistake. There’s also a slight chance money played a part. Municipalities gain funds from their citizen’s taxes but also through real estate fees. While the 60 people in Skorradalur don’t raise any large sums through taxes, the 800 summer residences in the area keep the books squarely in the green. So, what’s stopping the merger? The other local doesn’t want to get too deep into the subject. “Let’s not talk about that here.” By the time it’s her turn to vote, I’ve added her to my mental list of names of people who send their regards to my mother.

“THESE POLITICIANS

HAVE NO IDEA WHAT

THEY’RE DOING.”

A current member of the municipal council walks in, wearing a lovely sheep-patterned wool sweater. He’s married to a member of the electoral committee, and I’d been told he was someone who could explain how things work around here. When I asked if the elections were filled with suspense, he chuckled. “Well, I’ve been on the council now for 28 years. If I lose my seat, I think I’ll be ok.”

The atmosphere around the table is convivial and relaxed. A young woman comes in to vote, and someone asks her who she is. Or rather, who her parents are: the Icelandic phrase directly translates as “Which people do you belong to?” She’s the younger daughter from Fitjar farm, currently residing in Reykjavík. As soon as the mystery is solved, the assembly relaxes and moves on to assessing exactly which characteristics in her demeanour add the most to her resemblance to her mother. She is enthusiastically encouraged to have some cake. 

In this calm, cosy atmosphere, I get overambitious. I decide to push my luck, so as I’m washing the last bit of cake and cream down with the now-lukewarm coffee, I nonchalantly say to the council member sitting on my left: “So, there are no official merger negotiations on the table?”

The temperature in the room drops several degrees. The amicable buzz of conversation halts. No one looks directly at me, but I can sense every ear in the house tune in. After a slightly-too-prolonged silence, the council member takes it upon himself to chide me. “This is not really the place for that topic.” I can sense their second-hand embarrassment on my behalf: I’ve broken the social code, and I don’t even know it. It’s the council member’s turn to vote, and he seems eager to get away from this blundering journalist. For the fifth time today, I wonder about how long it takes these people to vote. I get that this might be a weightier decision than voting for a party in Reykjavík, but it can’t be that hard. We leave the polling station to pay a few visits.


Our first stop is the incumbent municipal council director’s house. A relatively recent transplant to the valley, he’s in the process of renovating a house he bought on auction following the banking collapse. Colourful paintings cover most surfaces in his home – Árni Hjörleifsson might have spent his career in municipal matters, but his passion is art, not politics. Several of the paintings depict Skessuhorn, the triangular mountain above his home – Skorradalur’s answer to the Matterhorn. 

So why is he here? Turns out Árni used to be married to a local woman and the doyen of the electoral committee, Davíð (of Grund farm), had wrangled him into taking a seat on the council for his know-how in politics. His personal politics weren’t an issue, even though he identifies as a social democrat and Skorradalur, in his words, is “a conservative lair” (íhaldsbæli). “But they found use for this damned social democrat from Hafnarfjörður.” He chuckles. 

“In the last elections, I was the oldest person voted into municipal office.” Árni tells me about the cooperation with neighbouring “giant” Borgarbyggð, which at the moment isn’t going so great. “There’s new people there, and in my opinion, they’re trying to force a merger.” Skorradalur was a part of a joint force of small municipalities protesting the plans for mergers under duress. “We got out of the legislation, but there remained an incentive to merge.” In his eyes, forced mergers don’t make sense: they should only be entered into if both parties see an advantage.

So there’s nothing on the table? “There was a poll eight years ago to see if people wanted a merger. It was killed. Do you want some coffee?” I’ve had enough coffee today to start a small car so I politely decline. “But of course, it’s a question of when, not if, at this point. The talk turns to road construction on the north side of the lake and the renovation of the pool reception. We soon find ourselves back on the more comfortable topic of the incompetence of people from Reykjavík. The electoral committee should technically all be disqualified, and elections in the middle of lambing season! 

“And then it’s the question of the ballot.” The ballot? “We tried to get it changed, you know, so people wouldn’t have to write in the names by hand, but we had to do it like everyone else. But I had the idea for the stencil, so that’s one solution, I guess.” As he explains further, everything starts to make a little more sense. The reason everyone is taking so long to vote is that in order to make sure their handwriting isn’t recognisable, the voting booth has a stencil with block letters. It’s a secret ballot, but in a valley of 60 people, are there really any secrets?  

SO MUCH FOR

THAT WORM.”

At our next stop, we’re told to go straight to the barn. It’s lambing season, you know. Once there, we meet the council member from earlier. He’s shed his woollen jumper and is currently practising sheep midwifery of the highest order. A couple of minutes later, a ewe is tiredly baa-ing at a tiny lamb. Only one though: its twin didn’t make it. “I’d noticed she was having difficulty before I went to vote. If there’s bleeding at that point, it’s highly likely that you’ll run into trouble.”

I ask him if he’s excited to see if he’s still on the municipal council when he wakes up tomorrow, or dreading it. “I’ll do my duty, of course, but we need to get this merger going. This just doesn’t make any sense anymore.” He reveals that one reason for Skorradalur’s continuing independence is the fear that moving power away from the people will mean less attention to what needs to be done locally. “That’s why we’re renovating the pool reception; we thought we’d be merging by now and wanted to get it done before it was just a small task on a long list in a larger municipality.” I bring up rumours that Skorradalur doesn’t want a merger to protect their coffers, heavy with real estate fees from summerhouse owners. “No, that’s silly. We get by, but there’s no gold stash here.” So much for that worm.

 

We head to Grund, the ancestral home of the Skorradalur patriarch. Davíð is still preoccupied at the polling station, much like he has been for the past 60 years, but we’re there to talk to his son Pétur. As we drive up to the farm, he’s on his way out to the barn: lambing season. 

“So he told you the story? About Grund?” I hadn’t gotten that far in my chat with his father, although I’d gotten some humorous anecdotes about my great grandfather. “Our family’s been here since the 1670s. They bought the farm from Bishop Brynjólfur.” He’s the man on the 5,000-króna bill. But even here at the grand seat of power in Skorradalur, they see the writing on the wall.  An independent Skorradalur isn’t possible in the long term. As for the merger, it isn’t as simple as it looks. And perhaps Borgarbyggð, despite its proximity, isn’t the only option. “We should get the talks started immediately, so we can do this right. ” So why haven’t they yet? “Well, your mother should be able to tell you all about that. She was on the municipal council when the last merger talks fell through, and she wasn’t too happy about it if I recall. It was all going pretty well, until one meeting when a Borgarbyggð official went off on the smaller municipalities. He basically called us parasites.” There are other reasons too, of course. There’s the fact that the municipality of Akranes is actually the largest landholder in Skorradalur. There’s the question of making sure that Skorradalur’s needs are met within a larger municipality and the fact that through some mathematical gymnastics and the intricacies of municipal law in Iceland, a merger with Borgargbyggð could mean that the merged municipality might actually have less funds overall.

I feel as if I’m getting closer to the heart of the matter: it’s about identity and dignity. Living in a small community means that you’re constantly reaffirming who you are and where you come from. You rely on the people around you. You don’t want to relinquish control of your affairs to a party that doesn’t see your importance. 

Maintaining a municipality of 60 people doesn’t make any sense. Skorradalur’s residents all know that: especially those of them who have to run it in between shifts at the side of pregnant ewes. But it’s a matter of pride at this point. Nobody wants to let their people down. 

I call my mother on the way back to Reykjavík. After reciting a long list of regards and messages, she commends me on my choice of interviewees. “There’s some good people in Skorradalur.” I watch the election coverage that night. It takes a long time to get the first numbers from Reykjavík, but I keep an eye out for the results of the Skorradalur election. Jón gets reelected, so does Pétur. Then there are some new faces, the woman from Hálsar’s daughter-in-law. A farmer we met that day, and a woman from Akranes who just started a sheep farm with her husband.

Fourth Round of Changes Proposed to Election Legislation

municipal election Skorradalur - Skorradalshreppur

A plan to review Iceland’s election legislation has been published on the government’s consultation website Samráðsgátt. New election legislation that took effect in January of this year caused headaches for smaller municipalities in municipal elections last May. RÚV reported first.

The new legislation tightened requirements for election committee members by ruling out anyone with close connections to candidates in the municipality. Those whose spouse, partner, sibling, child, grandchild, or even certain in-laws were running in the election were disqualified from being on the election committee, which made it a great challenge for municipalities with small populations to staff their election committees.

The article on election committee qualifications is not the only one the legislators intend to change. The plan also considers it necessary to amend the article concerning outer ballot envelopes, which reportedly caused counting delays in the May election.

While the election legislation was written through a process of broad consultation between 2016 and 2020, it has already been amended three times to address deficiencies, including discrepancies in calendar dates.

Formal Negotiations for Reykjavík City Council Begin

Einar Þorsteinsson

The Progressive Party has begun formal negotiations with the Social-Democratic Alliance, the Pirate Party, and the Reform Party on forming a governing majority on the Reykjavík City Council, RÚV reports. Under the leadership of first-time councillor Einar Þorsteinsson, the Progressive Party went from zero seats on the council to four following the May 14 municipal elections. Both Einar and incumbent mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson have stated they are not insistent on becoming mayor in the upcoming term: negotiations will focus on the issues before responsibilities are divided up.

Majority lost in election

Reykjavík’s four-party governing coalition of last term – consisting of the Social-Democratic Alliance, Reform Party, Pirate Party, and Left-Green Movement – lost two of its 12 seats in the election, and therefore its majority on the 23-seat Reykjavík City Council. The Social-Democratic Alliance and Reform Party both lost seats, the Left-Green Party held its single seat, while the Pirate Party increased its number of seats from two to three. As elsewhere in the country, the Progressive Party saw great success in Reykjavík, going from zero seats on the City Council to four. The Independence Party, while it received the largest proportion of the vote (nearly 25%), lost one seat, going from seven to six councillors.

Rule out coalition with Independence Party

As is normally the case for municipal elections in Reykjavík, no party won enough seats to form a majority on its own. While many different party coalitions are technically possible, several have been ruled out by party councillors, who are not willing to work with just anyone. The Left-Green Movement’s only councillor Lif Magneudóttir has stated the party will not participate in majority negotiations at all. The Pirate Party has ruled out a coalition with the Independence Party on political grounds, while the Social-Democratic Alliance, the Reform Party, and the Pirate Party have decided to band together in the negotiation process, ruling out a coalition that would include the Independence Party.

Socialist Party councillor Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir criticised the three-party grouping for negotiations, stating that the additional seats won by the Socialist Party and Pirate Party indicated voters were calling for a left-leaning city council, not a right-leaning one. The Socialist Party has refused to be in a majority government with the Reform Party, which it labels as a right-wing party.

“We see that the Reform Party speaks in favour of privatisation, outsourcing, and these market solutions, as was clearly stated in their election campaign. We Socialists speak for socialists and social solutions and very much in like with the emphases that should be expressed by the Social Democrats.”