Governing Coalition Least Popular Since Banking Collapse

Alþingishúsið

The latest numbers from Gallup show declining support for the current coalition, with numbers never lower since Geir Haarde’s government which presided over the banking collapse.

According to the latest numbers, the Social Democratic Alliance and the Progressive Party have lost the most support, while the Reform Party and the People’s Party have gained the most. Despite its losses, the Social Democratic Alliance still sees the highest level of support.

Read more: Support for Independence Party at Record Low

According to Gallup, support for the Social Democratic Alliance would decrease by a total of 3% if an election were held today. The last poll numbers showed support hovering around 30%, but the new level of 27% would mean 19 MPs. As stated however, the Social Democratic Alliance remains the most popular at the moment.

The Progressive Party has also seen a significant drop, from 9.9% support to 6.6%. If an election were held today, the party would get 4 MPs.

The Independence Party measured at 18.5%, translating to 13 MPs.

gallup poll july 2024
gallup.is

Read more: Waning Support for Left-Greens

The parties that gain the most from the recent poll are the Reform Party and the People’s Party, both parties seeing an increase of around 2%. Currently, the Reform Party polls at 9.4% and the People’s Party at 7.4%. If an election were held today, the Reform Party would take six MPs, and the People’s Party five.

The Centre Party gained one per cent, increasing from 13.5% to 14.5%, and would get 10 MPs.

The Pirate Party continues to have 8.8% support and would get 6 MPs.

The Left-Green Movement has marginally recovered from its recent low, moving from 3.3% to 4.0%. However, based on these numbers, if an election were held today the party, which is currently in the governing coalition, would not pass the 5% threshold for parliamentary representation.

The recent poll also shows 28% support for the current coalition, a record low since the banking collapse.

The data is based on a representative sample from Gallup’s Opinion Panel, selected randomly from Registers Iceland to reflect the demographics of the Icelandic population.

Parliament Approves Justice Minister’s Immigration Bill

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

Parliament has approved Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir’s immigration bill. Members of the government coalition, the Centre Party, and the People’s Party supported the bill, while the Social Democratic Alliance and Reform Party abstained. The Pirate Party opposed the bill.

Forty-two votes in favour

The immigration bill proposed by Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir has been approved by the Icelandic Parliament, Vísir reports.

All members of the government coalition voted in favour of the bill, along with members of the Centre Party and the People’s Party. Members of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Reform Party abstained, while Pirate Party members voted against the bill.

A total of 42 members of parliament voted in favour of the bill.

Four major amendments 

As noted by RÚV, the bill includes four major changes to current laws. Stricter conditions for family reunification will be implemented, the residence permit duration will be shortened, changes will be made to the Immigration Appeals Board, and the processing of appeals will be expedited.

“The objectives of the bill are clear in this important area. As previously stated, they aim to align our legislation with that of the Nordic countries and also to remove uniquely Icelandic procedural rules from our legislation,” Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir stated before the vote. “I also welcome the comprehensive vision and policy in this area that the government agreed upon earlier this winter, and this bill is an important part of that policy,” Guðrún added.

Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir, a member of the Pirate Party, stated that the provisions in the bill regarding family reunification were directly aimed against Palestinian asylum seekers: “We oppose this bill. There is nothing good in this matter. The changes being made do not increase efficiency. They increase costs and add pressure on the Directorate of Immigration by shortening the validity of residence permits. This is completely pointless,” Arndís Anna has stated.

As reported in May, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has voiced significant concerns about the bill, highlighting, among other things, issues with asylum caps and family reunification delays.

Police Use Pepper Spray on Protesters Outside Parliament

palestine protests alþingi

Police used pepper spray on protesters outside Alþingi last night, June 12. A Pirate Party MP reports that the protest had been peaceful and that the pepper spray was deployed when the vehicle of a government minister needed to leave Alþingi.

Last chance to protest

Pro-Palestinian activists organized a demonstration in front of Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, last night. As Alþingi will soon go into its summer recess, it was the last chance for demonstrators to be heard for this session of parliament.

Pro-Palestinian activists were also joined by anti-whaling activists protesting Minister of  Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir’s recent decision to grant Hvalur hf. a one-year whaling permit.

Several Pirate Party MPs present

RÚV reports that several MPs from the Pirate Party were also present for the peaceful demonstration, including Andrés Ingi Jónsson. He stated to RÚV that the demonstrators could be heard throughout the entire parliamentary session.

“When we arrived, people had gathered near Dómkirkja church and then positioned themselves in front of the entrance to the parking garage, where they were just beating drums and shouting slogans,” he stated to RÚV.  “Shortly after that, the police started to try to disperse the group, and, in my opinion, resorted to pepper spray rather quickly instead of trying to calm the situation.”

Minister’s car tried to leave

Another Pirate Party MP, Gísli Rafn Ólafsson, was present when the pepper spray was used on the protesters. He stated to RÚV that the demonstration had been peaceful and that the escalation in the use of force by police officers seems to have coincided with a minister’s (reportedly Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson) vehicle attempting to leave Alþingi.

Andrés Ingi stated to RÚV that he did not see specifically whose vehicle was leaving Alþingi, but that he found it “quite severe to resort to pepper spray just to let some cars pass.”

Many children and elderly people were also reportedly at the scene.

 

 

 

 

 

Recent Gallup Poll Shows Waning Support for Left-Greens

Alþingishúsið
If parliamentary elections were held today, the Left-Green Movement could stand to lose support and even their representation in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament. This is stated in a recent Gallup poll, as reported by RÚV. 

The Social Democratic Alliance currently rates as the most popular party, with 30% support.

Could fall below critical threshold

The most significant changes recorded by the Gallup poll include a slight decrease in support for both the Left-Greens and the People’s Party, both losing around 1% support. The People’s Party recorded 6.1% support according to the poll. Significantly however, the Left-Greens only polled at 3.3% support. If an election were held today, this might mean that the party, which is currently in a governing coalition, could fall below the 5% threshold for parliamentary representation.

Social Democratic Alliance polls best

If an election were held today and parties received results proportional the recent poll, the Social Democratic Alliance, currently polling highest, would receive 21 seats. The centre-right Independence Party, polling in second place at 18% support, would receive 12 MPs.

The Centre Party recorded 13.5% support and would receive 9 MPs, while the Progressive Party and Pirate Party both polled around 9% and would both receive 6 MPs. The Liberal Reform Party saw 7.7% support and would receive 5 seats, while the Icelandic Socialist Party would receive 3.7% of votes and no seats.

In total, Alþingi has 63 parliamentary seats. The poll also recorded only 29% support for the current governing coalition.

RÚV reports that the poll was carried out between April 30 and June 2. The sample size was some 12,731 individuals, of which 50.2% responded.

Committee to Investigate 1995 Suðavík Avalanche

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

An investigative committee will review the government and civil protection department’s decisions in the lead-up to one of Iceland’s most fatal natural disasters, the 1995 Súðavík avalanche. Iceland’s Parliament has approved a motion to on April 30 to establish the committee, RÚV reports. The survivors of the disaster have been calling for such an investigation for nearly 30 years.

On January 16, 1995, an avalanche struck the Westfjords town of Súðavík, killing 14 people, including eight children, and injuring 12 others. Later that year, another avalanche hit the Westfjords town of Flateyri, resulting in 34 fatalities. The disasters greatly impacted the two small villages, as well as changing Icelandic attitudes toward avalanche safety and prevention.

Unanswered questions

The relatives and loved ones of those who died in the Súðavík avalanche have called for such an investigation since the tragedy occurred. They believe that many questions about the lead-up to the disaster remain unanswered, including regarding decision-making on avalanche barriers, how information was relayed to residents, zoning safety, and the operations of the civil protection department before and after the avalanche.

Read More: Avalanche Barriers in Iceland

The committee will consist of three members who will have a year to review and illuminate these issues. The statement on the committee’s formation asserts, however, that there is no suspicion that any criminal activity took place. Members of the government and opposition both expressed support for the investigation.

Read more about the 1995 avalanches in Súðavík and Flateyri in Iceland Review’s article After the Avalanche.

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Iceland News Review: New Names, a Controversial Law, and More

In this episode of Iceland News Review, we dig into a rocky start for the government, some intriguing findings following a controversial law, the return of an iconic bird and more.

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

No Increase in Pregnancy Terminations Following Law Change

Iceland's Althing

Changes to Iceland’s abortion law that took effect in 2019 did not impact the number of pregnancies terminated in the country, according to a newly published report from the Directorate of Health. The law was heavily debated when it was introduced to Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, and criticised by the Bishop of Iceland, among others. The changes appear to have shortened the time between the decision to terminate a pregnancy and the procedure itself. RÚV reported first.

According to the latest figures from the Directorate of Health, the frequency of pregnancy termination in 2022 was similar to what it was before the law was changed in 2019. The number of terminations was slightly lower in 2020 and 2021, which may be explained by gathering restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Termination of pregnancy permitted until 22nd week

Under the new law, it is legal to request a termination of pregnancy up to the end of the 22nd week of pregnancy, instead of the 16th week, as the law previously allowed. However, the law still indicates that the procedure should be carried out as soon as possible, preferably before the 12th week of pregnancy.

The previous law in Iceland also permitted termination of pregnancy after the 16th week, but only due to unequivocal medical reasons. Such terminations required written authorisation from a Directorate of Health committee. This is no longer the case under the new law.

The old law was changed in part due its violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as it allowed the termination of pregnancy after the 16th week if there was “a high likelihood of malformation, genetic defects or damage to the fetus.” The law was first put under review in 2016, culminating with the introduction of the now-approved bill in 2019, by then-Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir.

Supported by medical professionals

Professional medical associations expressed support for the new law when it was introduced. These included the Association of Icelandic Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Association of Icelandic Nurses, the National University Hospital of Iceland, the Directorate of Health, and the Icelandic Social Workers’ Association. The Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir wrote an op-ed in Morgunblaðið newspaper opposing the changes, and People’s Party MP Inga Sæland also vocally opposed them at the time. Bjarni Benediktsson, chairman of the Independence Party and now Prime Minister, was the only government minister to vote against the bill.

Despite the legislation being relaxed in 2019, there is no evidence that the number of pregnancy terminations after the 16th week has increased in Iceland. On the other hand, a larger proportion of terminations are carried out earlier in the pregnancy, with nearly 90% carried out before the ninth week.

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.

Bjarni Sets Government Priorities in First Parliamentary Address

Bjarni Benediktsson icelandic politics

In his first parliamentary address after assuming the office of Prime Minister, Bjarni Benediktsson highlighted the government’s focus on energy development, economic stability through continued inflation reduction, and a sustainable approach to immigration. Bjarni also emphasised the importance of democratic debate, the nation’s enviable living conditions, and the collaborative spirit of its diverse political landscape.

Economic challenges persist

In his first address before parliament after having assumed the office of Prime Minister, Bjarni Benediktsson reviewed some of the main issues that the coalition government intends to focus on for the remainder of the term, Mbl.is reports.

Among the issues discussed by Bjarni was a focus on energy development with a simplified power plant establishment process. “We cannot allow power plant options, which have been classified in the utilisation category in parliament’s framework, to be delayed by bureaucracy to such an extent that no progress is made.”

Despite the decline in inflation, Bjarni acknowledged the challenges, such as high family repayments, continue to persist. “Continued reduction of inflation and thus economic stability for households and the business sector will be our guiding light in all our work,” Bjarni observed.

Properly welcoming those who seek refuge

Addressing immigration, Bjarni stressed the importance of secure borders for sovereignty and the need for a sustainable approach to welcome those eligible for refuge. “Managing the number of people who come here is a precondition for us to properly welcome those who have the right to seek refuge here … specific Icelandic rules should not increase pressure on the borders in such a way that infrastructure fails.”

Bjarni further noted that the legislative proposals of Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, Minister of Justice, for changes to immigration and police laws, would be finalised at this session.

Bjarni also mentioned ongoing efforts to improve disability benefits and aquaculture, expressing the honour he felt in leading the government and seeking cooperative governance across parties.

“One of the freest democracies in the world”

He then reflected on the essence of democratic debate and compromise, celebrating Iceland’s strong economy, political stability, and rich natural resources as foundations of its enviable global position.

“One doesn’t need to look far beyond our borders to find countries where no compromises, no democratic debate takes place, where only one person decides. I believe few people would want such a reality, and we should all be grateful to live in one of the freest democratic societies in the world, even though the eight political parties that form the parliament here do not always agree on every issue.”

He concluded on a sanguine note: “Our situation as Icelanders is enviable in many ways in the international arena. Despite facing difficult weather and natural challenges … there’s hardly a nation that enjoys better living conditions than we Icelanders. Let’s remember this when we disagree on the way forward.”

 

Parliament Passes Controversial Agricultural Bill Amid Opposition

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

A revised amendment to the agricultural products law (búvörulög) passed yesterday despite opposition from various stakeholders, paving the way for a potential monopoly in the agricultural processing sector. Critics argue the bill goes too far, with concerns that it could lead to higher prices for consumers.

Paving the way to a monopoly

A revised amendment to the law on agricultural products was passed yesterday, after the third debate in Parliament, despite requests for a postponement of the vote from the opposition and warnings from the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (ASÍ), the Consumers’ Association, and other stakeholders, Mbl.is reports.

The revised amendment, proposed by the majority of the Industrial Affairs Committee (atvinnuveganefnd), has been criticised for going further than the original bill, Mbl.is notes. Twenty-six MPs voted in favour of the legislation and nineteen against.

Members of the opposition, including Jóhann Páll Jóhannsson of the Social Democratic Alliance, Gísli Rafn Ólafsson of the Pirate Party, and Hanna Katrín Friðriksson of the Reform Party, requested a postponement. To no avail. The amendments include, among other things, an exemption for agricultural processing plants from competition laws, facilitating their consolidation.

“This means we will end up with Agricultural Products Inc. – a single company handling everything, and thus achieving an effective monopoly in Iceland, able to raise prices for us consumers without our ability to do anything about it. The same applies regarding what is paid to farmers, since there will only be one processing plant left,” Gísli Rafn stated in a speech before Parliament, as quoted by Mbl.is.

Competition from abroad

The Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (ASÍ), the Commercial Workers’ Union (VR), the Consumers’ Association, the Federation of Trade and Services (SVÞ), and the Icelandic Federation of Trade have warned against the passage of the bill, stating it goes against public interest. The Chair of the Industrial Affairs Committee, Þórarinn Ingi Pétursson of the Progressive Party, argues, however, that consumers are prioritised in these changes. “There will be no farmers if there aren’t consumers to consume their products.”

Þórarinn stated that if farmers and processing plants cannot offer consumers high-quality goods at competitive prices, there will be no domestic food production anyway: “So, consumers are always a priority when discussing domestic food production, and let’s not forget that we have competition in the food market. It comes from abroad,” Þórarinn observed.

“Unnecessary” changes

Kristrún Frostadóttir, the chairperson of the Social Democratic Alliance, stated that while farmers could not live with the status quo, it appeared that “something has gone seriously wrong in the processing” of the legislation. Instead of revising the bill back within the ministry to grant exemptions to those agricultural sectors most in need, a decision was made to proceed with a flawed bill.

“The result is a blanket exemption that could lead to a single large processing plant for all meat processing in the country, regardless of the type of livestock. This was unnecessary,” Kristún stated, noting that the methodology employed disadvantaged those who needed the changes the most.