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.”

Many Icelandic Residents Unaware of Right to Vote

Reykjavík City Hall ráðhús

Foreign residents who have lived in Iceland consecutively for three years have the right to vote in municipal elections, but many of them are not aware of that right, says Sara Björg Sigurðardóttir, a candidate for the Social-Democratic Alliance in Iceland’s upcoming municipal elections. Citizens of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland whose legal residence is in Iceland also have the right to vote in municipal elections, regardless of how long they have lived in the country.

“We’re talking about residents who have been living here for many years, paid taxes and fees, been active users of city services but didn’t know that they could vote in municipal elections,” Sara Björg told Fréttablaðið. “As a society, we need to do better when it comes to informing our residents about what rights they have in our society. One of the most precious ones is the right to vote.”

Amendments to Iceland’s municipal election laws took effect on January 1 of this year, shortening the period foreign citizens must reside in Iceland before they acquire the right to vote in municipal elections.

Municipal elections are held every four years in Iceland, and occur on the same date in all municipalities across the country. The upcoming municipal elections will be held on May 14, and advanced polls are already open.

Doubts About Lowering Municipal Voting Age

iceland parliament

A bill proposing that voting age for municipal elections should be lowered to 16 years is being prepared by parliament, RÚV reports. The bill suggests that every Icelandic citizen that is 16 years old on election day should be allowed to vote in municipal elections. The bill also suggests that citizens of other Nordic countries having had regal residence in Iceland for 3 years or longer should be able to vote at 16 years of age, as well as other foreign citizens that have had legal residence for 5 years or longer.

Parliament has reached out to different municipality councils across the country asking for feedback on the bill, with many of them, including the municipality of Hvalfjarðarsveit and Árborg, saying that they’d prefer the voting age remain at 18 years old. Hvergerðisbær’s town council also chimed in, saying that it would not feel right about separating voting age and the age of eligibility for candidacy.

Hvalfjarðarsveit does state, however, that there is cause to support democratic involvement of young people and increase their ability to influence society. The municipality suggests that this be achieved by strengthening youth councils within municipalities.

Many others request that they be given more time to discuss the proposed bill before handing in their assessment.

The Ombudsman for Children in Iceland has pointed out that in the 3 years that remain until the next elections, there is opportunity to increase social awareness of young people and fully prepare them to partake in the democratic process. “In our discussions with young people it has been made clear that they call for increased education on democracy, systems of government and politics in the older classes of elementary school and in high schools,” the ombudsman says.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many youth organisations support the bill, both within and outside political parties.

The lowering of the voting age in municipal elections would be possible with a simple amendment to existing voting laws, whereas the lowering of voting age for parliament elections would require a change in Iceland’s constitution.

Árneshreppur Municipal Election Results Challenged

árneshreppur

The proceedings of the recently finished municipal vote in Árneshreppur have been charged, RÚV reports. There was a high number of legal residence changes leading up to the elections, which are believed to have affected the vote in Árneshreppur, one of the least populated constituencies in the country.

A fraudulent vote?

The charge is being pressed by the individuals Elís Svavar Kristinsson and Ólafur Valsson, who believe that there were such severe faults with the voting process that it must have affected the vote. The handling of the legal residence changes by Registers Iceland and the chairman of the district council in Árneshreppur were critiqued severely in the charge. The rural district council broke the law when it did not receive comments from another party than Registers Iceland. Elís and Ólafur believe that there are enough conditions in place for the vote to be officially void.

Dubious residence changes

Seventeen individuals changed their legal residence to the municipality of Árneshreppur between April 24 and May 5, the deadline for legal residence changes to appear in the electoral register. The 17 new registrations represent a 40% increase in the municipality’s number of voters.

Of the 17 individuals, 9 registered their legal residence at the farm Drangar. One of Drangar’s owners told RÚV he does not know the individuals and had sent a letter to Registers Iceland asking them to look into the matter.

The rural district council had originally requested that Registers Iceland investigate whether the legal residence changes were actual residence changes. The police assisted with the investigation, which culminated with the removal of the majority of the newly registered voters in the district from the voters’ list.

A matter of nature

A proposed power plant in the area was the focal point of the municipal elections in Árneshreppur. One of the individuals who has moved his legal residence to Drangar farm is Saving Iceland spokesperson Snorri Páll Jónsson. Saving Iceland is an organization which opposes the building of power plants in Iceland. One of the biggest election issues in the municipality is a planned hydropower plant.

The charge was brought to the to the district this weekend and the district magistrate Jónas Guðmundsson has appointed a committee of three lawyers, which will take a stance on the charge.