Revisiting the cradle of the non-aligned movement
The morning of September 26 was good for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. After the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: The 21-year-old University of Iceland law student, from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history .
In historical significance, however, this event was the second to another. Iceland, the world champion in gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women parliamentarians than men, 33 to 30. The news immediately made world headlines: alone five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-Europeans: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the United Arab Emirates have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to change their headlines. The recount in the North West constituency affected the result across the country to delay the “women’s triumph” for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties exceeding the 5 percent threshold are allowed to distribute equalization seats among candidates who did not win constituency mandates and obtained the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalization mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation where the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply not have an equalization mandate, so that the lead candidate from the same party – but in a different constituency – receives it. .
This is what happened this year. Due to a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalization mandate in the Northwest, the constituency election commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions regarding the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a box. Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats among the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with Lenya Run Karim, 21, replaced by her party colleague, 52.
In the afternoon of September 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the Southern Commission announced a recount on its own: the difference between the Gauches-Verts and the centrists was only seven votes. There was no “domino effect”, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi, with the power to declare the elections valid, would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nonetheless, the “replaced” candidates have already announced their intention to appeal the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under Icelandic law, this is more than enough to invalidate the results and call for re-election in the North West, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a procedural breach there. in 10 years. Anyway, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of the men.
Progress of progressives and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, with a few exceptions, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling tripartite coalition rejuvenated its position, winning 37 of the 63 seats in the Althingi. The centrist Progressive Party enjoyed a veritable electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, despite a slight defeat, won eight seats, exceeding all pre-election expectations. Although the center-right Independence Party again outclassed everyone to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats is one of the worst results of the Icelandic “Grand Old Party”.
The results of the Social Democrats, nearly 10% against 12.1% in 2017, and hackers, 8.6% against 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Center Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime minister and victim of the Panama Papers, halved, from 10.9% to 5.4%. Centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The Populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party recorded gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Among the main Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party did not exceed the 5% threshold: despite a score above 7% in August, the Socialists obtained only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 were, as might be expected, high on the election agenda: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to one Frettablaðið survey. With swift and strict action, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has mostly experienced one of the lowest infection rates in the world. At the same time, the pandemic has exposed a number of problems in the national health system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgeries.
Equally important was climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20 ° C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North Atlantic island. However, the concerns of Icelanders never turned into increased support for the four left-wing parties advocating greater CO2 emissions reductions than those to which the country pledged under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues of this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism.
EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be on the agenda of the newly elected parliament, as the Eurosceptics’ combined result, despite a 4% loss, exceeds always half of the whole voice. The new Althingi will likely be faced with the issue of constitutional reform again, which is only becoming more topical in light of the pandemic and the history of equalization mandates.
New (old) government?
The parties must negotiate the formation of a coalition. The most likely scenario today is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left Greens and the Progressives will continue. It was the most ideologically diverse and the first tripartite coalition in Icelandic history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it gain additional voices. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson said earlier that he would be ready to keep the ruling coalition if it held a majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties reached an agreement.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. If the left-wing Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a coalition of four or more parties. .
It remains to be seen who will become the new Prime Minister, but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current Prime Minister and leader of the left-wing Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, has a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the politician the most. most popular in Iceland with a 40 percent approval rating.
Althingi’s election of 2021, with one of the lowest turnout in history at 80.1%, did not produce a clear winner. The election results reflect a European-wide trend in which the traditional “big” parties are losing their support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are drawn by new, smaller parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not bode well for a sensation. Although Iceland did not become the first European country with a female majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ confidence in their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC