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.

The Centre Can Hold

Einar Þorsteinsson mayor of reykjavík

“My approach to politics is based on the concept of “public service,” says Einar Þorsteinsson, the new mayor of Reykjavík. “The people who enter politics should be there to serve the public.”Already a household name as a TV personality, Einar was primed for the spotlight before making the move into politics. The 45-year-old Kópavogur-born father […]

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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%.

Left-Green Movement Polls Historically Low

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement would have trouble winning any seats in Parliament if an election were held today, according to the latest poll from Gallup. The party’s support has never measured as low in Gallup’s national pulse since it first entered Parliament in 1999. RÚV reported first.

Support for government dropping

The poll measured support fro the Left-Green movement at 5.1%, a drop from 6% one month ago. A party needs at least 5% of the votes to get a seat in Parliament. The other parties in the governing coalition saw minor changes, with the Independence Party dropping from 20.5% to 19.8% support and the Progressive Party’s support rising slightly from 7.4% to 8.6%. Support for the government dropped by one percentage point overall over the past month, now standing at 33 percent.

Political analysts have commented on an apparent rift between the three governing parties, revealed in the Icelandic government’s handling of a UN vote on Gaza, among other issues. The government has also faced criticism recently for new legislation that leads to the eviction of asylum seekers from state housing and the handling of the sale of Íslandsbanki, a state-owned bank.

The Social-Democratic Alliance maintained its lead in the poll, though its support dropped from 29.1% to 28.1%.

Municipal Election Results: Gains for Progressives Across Iceland

iceland election

Last Saturday’s municipal elections will go down in Icelandic history books, both for the Progressive Party’s success across the country, and the Independence Party’s worst-ever outcome in Reykjavík. The Progressive Party doubled its following nationwide compared to the last municipal election, held in 2018, and more than tripled its number of councillors from 22 to 67.

Iceland holds municipal elections every four years, in all municipalities concurrently. While the results gave the Progressive Party much to celebrate, several other parties saw losses in their number of seats on local councils, including the Centre Party, the Social-Democratic Alliance, and the Reform Party. While the Independence Party lost following across the country, it remains the party with the most local councillors nationwide: 110.

Reykjavík results

Reykjavík’s four-party governing coalition – 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 has lost 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 Socialist Party also saw an increase in voters, doubling their seats from one to two. While it received the largest proportion of the vote, or nearly 25%, the Independence Party lost one seat, going from seven to six councillors following the election.

Poor voter turnout

Voter turnout decreased in all of the country’s largest municipalities except Hafnarfjörður, where it increased by 2.4%. The lowest voter turnout was in Reykjanesbær, where less than half of registered voters turned up to the polls. Voter turnout was 63% across the country, a drop from 68% in the last municipal elections.

In Reykjavík, voter turnout was 61.1%, or 5.9% lower than in 2018. It bears noting, however, that amendments to election legislation that took effect in January increased the number of registered voters in the city by around 10,000. A total of 61,359 people voted in the city in this year’s election, while in 2018 that number was 60,417.

Coalition talks begin

In light of the weekend results, parties across the country are beginning coalition talks. In Reykjavík, Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson has announced that his Social-Democratic Alliance has begun negotiations with the Pirate Party and the Reform Party on forming a governing coalition. Progressive Party councillor Einar Þorsteinsson said he was open to collaborating with all parties with seats on the council. Independence Party councillor Hildur Björnsdóttir stated she had had several informal talks with other councillors, while Left-Green Movement councillor Lif Magneudóttir has stated the party will not participate in majority coalition talks this term.

Trust in Government Plummets Following Controversial Bank Sale

If an election were held today, the current governing coalition would lose 12 of their 38 seats, losing their current majority. The three governing parties: the Left-Green Movement, the Independence Party, and the Progressive Party, would win 26 seats in Alþingi – 32 are needed for a majority government. The data comes from a recent poll Prósent conducted for news outlet Fréttablaðið.

All three governing parties lose following

Seven months since Iceland’s last parliamentary election and five months to the day since the cabinet was appointed, all three governing parties have lost significant following, according to the poll’s results. The Independence Party has experienced the biggest drop as compared to last autumn’s election results: from 24.4% to 17.9%. The Progressive Party now measures 12.4% support, as compared to 17.3% in the last election. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s party the Left-Green Movement has dropped from 12.9% support in the election to 9.6% in the poll.

Among the opposition, both the Pirate Party and the Social-Democratic Alliance have gained significant following when the poll is compared to the election results, and the Reform Party has also seen a slight increase in support, putting them on par with the Left-Green Movement. The People’s Party and Centre Party have both lost following since last autumn. The Socialist Party, which did not win any seats in the last election, would win three if elections were held today.

70% have little trust in Finance Minister

A recent poll from Maskína shows that trust in government ministers has fallen significantly since last year. The number of respondents that stated they trust Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson a lot has fallen by half since last autumn, from 37% to 18%. More than seven out of ten respondents stated they have little or very little trust in Bjarni.

Several controversies have emerged since the government took power last autumn, the biggest of which has been last month’s sale of a 22.5% stake in Íslandsbanki. The government’s handling of the sale has been harshly criticised by opposition MPs and has led to multiple public protests. A racist comment uttered by Progressive Party Chairman Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson has likely impacted his party’s following.

Minister to Meet with CEO Vigdís Häsler in Wake of Racist Remark

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson

Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson will meet with CEO of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association Vigdís Häsler today to discuss a racist remark made by the Minister at the association’s annual conference last week. Vigdís hopes the meeting will allow her to “set the matter aside,” RÚV reports.

Words spoken in a “fit of frustration”

As reported by Iceland Review earlier this week, Minister of Infrastructure and Chairman of the Progressive Party Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson attended the annual conference of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association last week. 

After a night of “much singing, joy, and entertainment,” a few employees of the Farmers’ Association approached the Minister, asking him to partake in a photo-op. The photo-op involved lifting CEO Vigdís Häsler onto a makeshift plank. Finding the act inappropriate, the Minister refused to participate and uttered a racist remark about the CEO. (Vigdís is Icelandic but was originally adopted from Indonesia.)

Vigdís published a Facebook post on the incident on Monday, saying that she had “never imagined she would have to write such a statement: I’ve never let the colour of my skin, my race, sex, or anything else define me.” Vigdís wrote that the Minister had uttered an “extremely hurtful remark,” without getting into the details.

Shortly after Vigdís’ post, Sigurður Ingi published a written apology on Facebook. In an interview with RÚV on Tuesday, the Minister again apologised for his remark, adding that it had been spoken in a “fit of frustration.” According to Sigurður, he had tried to reach out to Vigdís on the morning after the annual conference and through the Association’s Chair on the following weekend. While pressed several times to clarify what exactly he had said, the Minister refused to repeat his remark.

Hopes to “set the matter aside”

As reported by RÚV last night, Sigurður Ingi will meet with Vigdís Häsler today. Vigdís hopes that she will be able to “set the matter aside” after the meeting, although closure will depend entirely on Sigurður Ingi. 

In a brief interview, Vigdís stated that she had received “numerous messages over the past few days,” from the parents of adopted children, among others, in which it became clear to her that “all types of racism are widely tolerated.” She did not comment further on the meeting. 

Harsh criticism from the opposition, the public

The Minister has received harsh criticism from the public, many of whom have called on him to resign. Opposition MPs have also criticised Sigurður Ingi. In a session in Parliament, Pirate Party MP Halldóra Mogensen stated that the Minister’s remark could be considered “a breach of law.”

In response to the opposition, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that Sigurður Ingi’s apology indicated that the remark had been unacceptable and should not have been uttered. “I don’t dispute the words of the CEO of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association in this matter, but we must also be able to accept it when people apologise,” Katrín stated.