Vote of No Confidence Felled

bjarni benediktsson

The People’s Party and Pirate Party motion of no confidence against Iceland’s coalition government was felled with 35 votes to 25. The motion was introduced in response to Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s resignation as Prime Minister and her replacement by Independence Party Chairman Bjarni Benediktsson. The bill’s supporters were calling for the dissolution of Parliament by June and an election in September.

Unsurprising outcome

People’s Party MP and Chairperson Inga Sæland, who introduced the bill, told RÚV that the result of the vote did not surprise her. “Of course not. They have 38 MPs, with a very good and strong majority as we know.”

Hildur Sverrisdóttir, Chair of the Independence Party’s parliamentary group, also stated that the vote’s outcome was as expected, adding that “[i]t’s good this is over with and we can continue our work.”

Ministries play musical chairs

Prime Minister of Iceland since 2017, Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced earlier this month that she was resigning from the post to run in Iceland’s Presidential election on June 1. As a result, the governing Left-Green Movement, Independence Party, and Progressive Party reassigned ministry appointments, making Bjarni Benediktsson Prime Minister.

Bjarni resigned as Finance Minister just last October following a ruling that he had mishandled the sale of state-owned bank Íslandsbanki. Less than a week later, it was announced that Bjarni would be appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs, swapping roles with Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, who took over as Minister of Finance.

Broad disapproval of Bjarni as PM

Nearly four out of every five people (78%) surveyed said they disapproved of Bjarni Benediktsson, leader of the Independence Party, ascending to the office of prime minister. According to a new poll by Prósent, only 13% said they approved of Bjarni, Heimildin reports. Almost 42,000 people in Iceland, equivalent to around 15% of voters in the country, have signed a petition titled “Bjarni Benediktsson does not have my support as Prime Minister.”

Read more about Bjarni Benediktsson.

Pirates and People’s Party Challenge Coalition Government

Cabinet of Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

Inga Sæland, leader of the People’s Party, has submitted a motion of no confidence directed at the coalition government of Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson. The motion is co-signed by MPs from the Pirate Party.

The entire cabinet is the object of the motion, which also includes a clause calling for new elections for Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, this September.

Ministers not held accountable

“In our view, ministers have not been held accountable when they swap cabinet positions instead of resigning and admitting their violations in office,” Inga told Vísir. She added that Bjarni, who became prime minister last week after Katrín Jakobsdóttir resigned to run for the office of president, had left the ministry of finance last fall after failing to confirm to guidelines during the privatisation of Íslandsbanki bank.

“We also think it’s in bad taste that Svandís Svavarsdóttir, who as minister of food, agriculture and fisheries violated law and maybe even the constitution itself, has been promoted as well and is now minister of the interior,” Inga said.

Little hope of success

Inga said that she expects most, if not all, MPs from opposition parties to support the motion and hopes that it will be scheduled for debate as soon as tomorrow. She admitted, however, that the chances of the motion carrying were low.

“They have 38 MPs and they’re not going to vote themselves out of power,” she said of the coalition MPs from the Independence Party, Progressive Party and Left-Green Movement. Members of parliament in Alþingi are 63 in total.

She said that the motion was a symbolic gesture first and foremost. “Behind it stand some 40 to 50 thousand voters who have signed a petition to protest Bjarni Benediktsson becoming the head of the entire executive branch in the country,” Inga said, referring to an online petition started following the cabinet reshuffling.

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.

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.

Coalition Government in Flux After PM Decision

government coalition

The future of the coalition government is uncertain following yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir that she would leave her post to run for the office of president.

Katrín’s Left-Green Movement, the Independence Party and the Progressive Party make up the coalition, but it is unclear if it will continue until the elections set for next year. It has not been announced who will take over from Katrín as prime minister or if new elections will be called ahead of schedule.

Unclear who will be prime minister

According to Morgunblaðið, the leaders of the coalition parties are in talks about the next steps, with both the Independence Party and the Progressive Party laying claim to the office of prime minister. If talks break down, a new coalition could be formed to serve until next year’s elections.

Opposition MPs have called for a new election immediately. The Left-Green Movement will also need to choose a successor for Katrín, who resigned as leader yesterday after 11 years at the helm. Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, minister of social affairs and the labour market, has taken Katrín’s place until party members make their decision.

Dozens of candidates for president

Katrín is leaving parliamentary politics to campaign for the largely ceremonial office of president. This is the first time in Iceland’s history that the reigning prime minister runs for president. Current president, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, announced on January 1 that he would leave the office this summer after having served two terms.

Other candidates for president include Jón Gnarr, comedian and former mayor of Reykjavík, Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of B Team, Baldur Þórhallsson, professor of political science, and dozens of others. The election takes place in one round on June 1. Therefore, the next president could be elected with a significant minority of the total vote.

Opposition to Free School Lunches

school children

As a precondition to newly signed collective bargaining agreements, primary school lunches will be free. This will save a family with two children approximately ISK 40,000 [$292, €268] per month.

The initiative is to be funded 75% by the Treasury and 25% by municipalities, who operate the primary schools. However, 26 representatives of the centre-right Independence Party in municipalities across Iceland wrote an article Thursday, criticising the head of the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities for agreeing to the initiative, which they oppose.

School lunches key to the agreement

Vilhjálmur Birgisson, president of the Federation of General and Special workers in Iceland (SGS), told Vísir today that there would be no long-term collective bargaining agreement without the free school lunches. He said the initiative would help families a lot.

He added that the Independence Party representatives were using the labour unions in political chess and that a new agreement was yet to be made with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities. “I believe 99% of municipalities will keep their promise,” he said. “If any individual municipalities won’t, then we can’t make a new agreement with them in February of next year.”

Icelandic Police Bill to Boost Surveillance Powers

police station reykjavík

Icelandic police would be given increased powers of surveillance if a bill proposed by Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir is passed. RÚV reports that Guðrún introduced the bill in Parliament yesterday. Opposition MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir believes the power the bill grants police is too extensive.

The aim of the bill is to strengthen the police’s ability to respond to organised crime and to give it the authority to monitor individuals who have not committed a crime. To have this authority, there must be a suspicion that an individual is connected to criminal organisations and could potentially commit a serious offence.

The bill would grant police the right to carry out such surveillance in public places, but not within private homes. The police would not need a court order to carry out such surveillance, although a special steering group that includes police officials would have to approve the measure.  The Minister of Justice stated that the bill would bring Icelandic legislation closer to legislation in other Nordic countries.

No independent supervision of police

Pirate Party MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir criticised the bill for not including any independent supervision of police and the use of this surveillance permission. “What is being done here is that the police are being given authority to monitor ordinary citizens who have done nothing wrong and even without any suspicion that the person has done anything wrong,” she stated. The Minister of Justice stated that the bill also includes increased supervision of police through establishing a monitoring group for police work and regular reports on the matter to Parliament.

Read More: Police Powers in Iceland

The Ministry of Justice, under the leadership of the Independence Party, has been pushing for increased police powers for some time. In 2022, then Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson introduced a crime bill with similar measures to the bill Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir introduced yesterday. It was criticised by the Icelandic Bar Association as well as opposition MPs.

“There are, of course, some conditions in the bill, but it gives the police authority to monitor people’s movements without they themselves being under suspicion of criminal conduct, whether or not they have committed a crime or are preparing to commit a crime,” Sigurður Örn Hilmarsson, the chairman of the Icelandic Bar Association, stated at the time. He suggested that establishing a dedicated organisation such as an intelligence service would be a better way of investigating the most serious crimes, such as terrorism or organised crime.

Government Coalition Parties Polling at an All-Time Low

government coalition

The three government coalition parties are polling at a combined 32.6% according to a new survey by Maskína. The Independence Party is polling at 16.6%, its weakest showing of all time since Maskína began conducting polls, while the Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s party, the Left-Green Movement, is in danger of losing all its MPs from Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament.

The poll was conducted from January 10 to 15, around the time the volcanic eruption by Grindavík took place, but before Independence Party chairman Bjarni Benediktsson made remarks about asylum seeker policy which have been interpreted as a policy shift for his party, Heimildin reports. Alþingi elections are scheduled for next year.

Coalition tested

The Left-Green Movement is polling at 5.7%, which would make it the smallest of the parties that now have seats in Alþingi. The third coalition member, the Progressive Party, is polling at 10.3%, well below the 17.3% it received in the 2021 election. In the election, the three parties received a combined 54.4% of the vote, but according to the poll, less than a third of voters would choose one of the coalition parties.

Alþingi reconvened this Monday after a Christmas break and a number of issues have tested the strength of the coalition, including whaling, policy on asylum seekers, and the question of how the residents of Grindavík can best be served in the wake of an eruption that did significant infrastructural damage to the town.

Social democrats in the lead

The Centre Party, however, is rising in the polls, with 11.8% support. The Social Democratic Alliance remains the leader in the polls with 25.7% like it has been for more than a year. Since electing a new chairperson, Kristrún Frostadóttir, the party has soared above its 2021 election result, when it received only 9.9% support.

The Reform Party is polling at 11.7%, up from 8.3% in the election. Two of the opposition parties have lost support since the election. The Pirate Party is polling at 7.6%, while the People’s Party is at 6.5%.

Decision on Whaling Broke Law

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

The decision made last summer by Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir to stop whaling was not in accordance with the law, the Alþingi Ombudsman has concluded. The conclusion is likely to threaten Svandís’ position as minister and possibly the coalition government as a whole.

Svandís announced in June that she would temporarily stop whaling due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). She argued that in light of the opinion, she would have no choice but to postpone the start of whaling season. The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups.

Whaler sues for damages

Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Iceland’s only active whaling operation, Hvalur hf., told Morgunblaðið that he would sue for damages. “She lets her own political views guide her with no regard for other interests if they don’t align with hers,” Kristján said of Svandís after the Ombudsman published their conclusion. “Of course Hvalur will ask for compensation because of the enormous harm that’s come to the company and its staff.”

Svandís’ decision last summer was met with fierce opposition by her coalition partners in the Independence Party. Svandís is a member of the Left-Green Movement, who along with the Progressive Party, make up the coalition government spanning from centre-left to centre-right. Mbl.is reports that MPs from the Independence Party are already speculating on the possibility that she will be forced to resign or offered a similar route to Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson. Last fall, the Ombudsman issued a conclusion criticising Bjarni’s handling of the March 2022 sale of Íslandsbanki as Minister of Finance, in which a group of “qualified investors” were given priority to purchase bank shares. Among these qualified investors was Benedikt Sveinsson, Bjarni’s father. Bjarni then swapped ministries with fellow party member Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir and became Minister of Foreign Affairs. Some expect Svandís to swap ministries in this way or else risk the future of the coalition.

Svandís told Mbl.is that she has not considered resigning and that the Ombudsman’s conclusion will help guide future policy-making on whaling.

Gallup: Support for Independence Party Hits Historic Low

bjarni benediktsson finance minister

The Independence Party has hit a historic low in the Gallup National Pulse survey, polling at only 18%, Vísir reports. Despite minor fluctuations in support between polls, overall backing for the government has decreased slightly from 33% to 32%.

Social Democratic Alliance enjoying increased support

The Independence Party is currently polling at 18% support in the latest National Pulse (Þjóðarpúls) survey by Gallup. This marks the lowest level of support the party has ever recorded in the over three-decade history of the National Pulse, Vísir reports

The Social Democratic Alliance remains the largest party with 28% support, followed by the Independence Party with 18.1% support. The Centre Party is now the third largest party in Iceland, polling at 9.7%, slightly ahead of the Progressive Party at 9.4%. As noted by Vísir, there has been little change in respondents’ answers between polls, although support for the government continues to decline, dropping from 33% in November to 32% in December.

Support for individual parties (with 2021 election results in brackets) is as follows:

  • Social Democratic Alliance: 28.4% (9.9%)
  • Independence Party: 18.1% (24.4%)
  • Centre Party: 9.7% (5.5%)
  • Progressive Party: 9.4% (17.3%)
  • Pirate Party: 9.1% (8.6%)
  • Reform Party: 8.8% (8.3%)
  • People’s Party: 6.8% (8.9%)
  • Left-Green Movement: 6.0% (12.6%)
  • Socialist Party: 3.6% (4.1%)