Katrín Leads in Presidential Poll

Katrín Jakobsdóttir Bjarni Benediktsson Sigurður Ingi Ráðherra

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who resigned as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement this weekend to run for president of Iceland, leads the race according to a new survey by pollster Maskína.

32.9% said they would vote for Katrín in the presidential election scheduled for June 1, Mbl.is reports. Katrín announced her campaign last week after months of speculation, throwing the future of the coalition government she headed into question. Discussions are ongoing within her party and coalition partners the Independence Party and the Progressive Party about the shape of a new cabinet to serve until next year’s parliamentary elections. Katrín remains as prime minister until a new coalition is formed.

Baldur close on Katrín’s heels

26.7% said they would vote for Baldur Þórhallsson, professor of political science. Jón Gnarr, comedian and former mayor of Reykjavík, had 19.6% support in the poll. 7.9% said they would vote for Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of B Team. Halla Hrund Logadóttir, director general of the National Energy Authority, had 5.7% support, while other candidates polled below 5%.

The current president, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, announced on January 1 that he would not be seeking reelection after two terms in office. The role of president is a largely ceremonial one, although it comes with limited political powers.

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.

Prime Minister Reflects on Poor Polling

Katrín Jakobsdóttir Bjarni Benediktsson Sigurður Ingi Ráðherra

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, leader of the Left-Green Movement, told RÚV today that low poll numbers should cause the party’s leadership as a whole to reflect on their position. The party is polling at 4.7% in Gallup’s latest poll, their worst numbers since the turn of the century, and would likely not get a single MP elected to Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, if this were to be the outcome in an election.

Two terms in a broad coalition

The Left-Green Movement formed a coalition government with the conservative Independence Party and the centrist Progressive Party in 2017. The coalition continued after the 2021 election, despite Katrín’s party losing three seats in Alþingi. The party has been criticised by both current and former members for conceding too many of their policy objectives and making compromises with their coalition partners.

At a party council meeting this weekend, Katrín emphasised that everyone in the leadership, including herself, should consider their position. She told RÚV, however, that she was not quitting as party leader. “But I think it’s prudent when the polls are like this, and it would be irresponsible not to do so, to consider our position and that goes for me and others in the Movement’s leadership.”

Better communication

“I don’t think this poll reflects the success we’ve had in leading a coalition government through challenging times,” Katrín said, admitting that previous poll numbers have also been unfavourable. “It should make all of us in the Movement consider what we’re doing. It’s also necessary to better communicate the success we’ve been able to achieve.”

Katrín added that she believes that the Left-Green Movement still has an important place in Icelandic politics and that she hopes for an upswing. “I wouldn’t have been in politics for 20 years without being an optimistic person,” she said.

Central Bank Governor to Stay On

Ásgeir Jónsson, Governor of the Central Bank of Iceland

Ásgeir Jónsson, the Governor of the Central Bank of Iceland, will stay on until the year 2029, RÚV reports.

The Governor’s term was set to end August 20 this year. According to law, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir would have had to inform Ásgeir with a six months notice if the position were to be opened for other candidates. This did not take place and Ásgeir’s tenure was therefore automatically extended for five years.

Tumultuous term in office

Ásgeir was appointed in 2019 and has faced challenges during his term. The Covid-19 pandemic affected the economy greatly and the Central Bank’s response was to drive down interest rates to fuel economic activity. At their lowest, they were 0.75%, the lowest rate in Iceland’s history.

After the pandemic, inflation has been high and persistent. Since mid-2021, interest rates have steadily gone up and now stand at 9.25%.

Wage Negotiations Halted

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir

The coalition of unions has ended its negotiations with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) on a new collective bargaining agreement. The coalition claims that negotiations were not moving forward, Vísir reports.

Disagreement on economic targets

In a press release, the coalition claims that a clause on the development of inflation and interest rates became the point of contention. The coalition hoped to include a clause in the four-year deal to protect workers from downside risks if inflation and interest rate targets were not met.

“The coalition is deeply disappointed by SA choosing to derail negotiations because of this clause,” the release said. “It’s especially regrettable, since both parties have worked hard to reach an agreement on modest salary increases and an agreement on salaries had already been reached in principle. The signing of new agreement was within our grasp.”

The coalition claims that all long-term agreements in recent decades have included a clause such as the one in dispute. “This would mean that workers alone would carry the risks if the targets aren’t reached. It is strange that SA is not ready to cement in a long-term agreement the goals they have often claimed are most important to them: lowering inflation and interest rates.”

Government benefit increases discussed

Negotiations have been ongoing for weeks, with parties also conferring with government ministers. The unions have called for increased government spending on child and housing benefits in exchange for modest salary increases. “We’ve been able to deepen the conversation on possible scenarios and how the government can be involved,” said Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir after a meeting with union coalition on Thursday. “I’ve repeatedly said that we are willing to back a collective bargaining agreement that supports inflation targets and creates the conditions to lower interest rates. All of us agree on this point.”

Calls for Iceland to Join South Africa’s Genocide Case

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Some 100 protesters convened outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Tjarnargata this morning to protest the government’s handling of policy towards Palestine. They criticise authorities for not doing more to bring residents of Gaza who already hold Icelandic visas to the country on the basis of family reunification. The protesters chanted: “The children of Gaza are our children”.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir met with protesters outside and sat down with an advocacy group leader to discuss pleas for Iceland to support South Africa’s case against Israel before the International Court of Justice, Mbl.is reports. South Africa has is seeking an emergency suspension of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

Public support for Palestine

Katrín met with Hjálmtýr Heiðdal, head of the Association Iceland-Palestine, who handed her a letter from the association along with a copy of South Africa’s charge. “If authorities suspect a genocide in the making, not to mention one already in progress, then it is their duty to step in,” Hjálmtýr told Mbl.is. He added that the best thing that the Icelandic government could do at this point would be to support South Africa’s case. “It is very important to do so right away.”

Hjálmtýr reiterated that Katrín had in the past supported the idea of severing political relations with Israel and added that polls show that three of every four Icelanders support the Palestinian cause. “110 children are being killed every day and it just keeps going,” he said. “They have to try to stop this. South Africa’s case could apply some pressure.”

Activists camped out in front of Alþingi

Local activists slept in tents in front of Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament, on Saturday night in solidarity with Palestinian protesters who have camped there since December 27. The group has made three demands of Icelandic authorities. Firstly, to carry out the family reunifications for which they have already granted visas. Secondly, a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Thirdly, to stop the ongoing deportations of Palestinian people in Iceland and grant them international protection.

Football Captain Raises Pitch Concerns with Prime Minister

Football team

At a press conference yesterday, Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson – captain of Iceland’s men’s national football team – told reporters that he had raised concerns about Iceland’s inadequate pitch conditions during a meeting with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Vísir reports. The team will face off against Luxembourg tonight in a 2024 UEFA Euro 2024 qualifier.

“We’re not asking for much”

Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, set to captain Iceland’s men’s national football team in tonight’s UEFA Euro 2024 qualifier against Luxembourg, addressed media queries at a press conference yesterday, fielding several questions concerning Iceland’s subpar pitch conditions.

Jóhann told reporters that he had met Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and raised an informal concern regarding the unacceptable state of Iceland’s football pitches. Katrín is currently in Luxembourg for talks with Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.

As noted by RÚV, local football club Breiðablik – having secured a spot in the Europa Conference League’s group stage – now faces the challenge of hosting home games at Laugardalsvöllur, Iceland’s sole sanctioned football pitch. The pitch lacks undersoil heating, raising concerns about the prospect of maintaining its quality until Breiðablik’s final home match in November.

The Icelandic men’s team is also likely to compete in a playoff for a berth in the UEFA Euro 2024 finals next March, intensifying the urgency to upgrade Laugardalsvöllur’s playing conditions.

Jóhann expressed envy for Luxembourg’s national stadium, the venue for tonight’s match between the two countries. “I told Katrín during breakfast this morning that Iceland needs a comparable facility. We’re not asking for much – just one quality pitch for crucial matches, especially when Laugardalsvöllur’s readiness is in doubt,” Jóhann stated.

He further noted that the issue has languished in committees for nearly a decade. “Perhaps it’s time to explore alternatives to endless committee discussions,” Jóhann suggested.

The match between Iceland and Luxembourg kicks off at 6:45 p.m. tonight.