With the Icelandic election just days away, here is a closer look at the Progressive Party; a party on the ropes after losing more than half of their seats at the last election and a party split just weeks before voters go to the polls.
The Progressive Party is a centre-right and agrarian party that represents Iceland’s farmer class. The party is the oldest currently operating in Iceland and was formed in 1916 after two agrarian parties, the Farmers’ Party and Independent Farmers, merged. Since Iceland became a republic in 1944, the Progressive Party has almost always been the second largest party, but has declined slightly over the last two decades.
In recent years, the party served in coalition with the Independence Party, with leader Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson becoming Prime Minister in 2013 after forming a coalition with the Independence Party. However, Sigmundur Davíð was implicated in the Panama Papers scandal in 2016, after revelations that he once owned (and his wife owned whilst he was PM) an offshore investment company with multi-million pound claims on Iceland’s failed banks. He stepped aside as Prime Minister shortly after the scandal emerged and fresh elections were called by the new PM, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson.
The party paid the price for the Panama Papers scandal, losing over half of its support and seats – with 15% and eight seats, shrinking to the fourth largest party.
After losing the party’s leadership, Sigmundur Davíð claimed he was the victim of an international conspiracy and suggested, without evidence, that renowned investor George Soros was behind the leak and that Swedish broadcaster SVT ‘falsified’ an interview in which he was questioned about the allegations. He then caused further trouble for the party last month, after quitting the party when fresh elections were called. Sigmundur Davíð also launched a new party, the Centre Party, which has eaten away at the Progressive Party in polling.
The current leader of the party is Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, after being elected to the post in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal and narrowly beating the disgraced Sigmundur Davíð. Prior to briefly serving as Prime Minister, Sigurður Ingi was Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture from 2013 and also serve as Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources from March 2013 to the end of 2014.
The Progressive Party’s ideology works to represent the interests of Iceland’s rural communities. Although the party defines itself as being centrist, outsiders dispute this. Its position on European Union membership has varied over the years – currently it is firmly opposed to joining the EU.
- Invest 20 billion krona (£144.6m) to address needs in health, education and transport
- Increase the number of nursing homes across the country
- Aim to increase the number of psychologists in the health service and subsidise psychiatric services to tackle mental health issues
- Build 300 new affordable apartments and nursing homes per year in municipalities where the need is most urgent
- Create a five year student loan to help young families buy their first apartment
Economy and taxation
- Make sure government surplus is spent in various areas, not just debt reduction
- Have the Icelandic Central Bank apply macroeconomic tools to reduce risk to exchange rate from interest rate trading
- Revise the tax system to ease the burden on low-income groups in society
- Make banks pay dividends to the Treasury amounting to 40 billion krona (£289.2m) to reduce government debt
Business and consumer affairs
- Nationalise one of the country’s big banks and put it in the direction of promoting competition in banking and working for the benefit of the consumer
- Remain outside the EU and ensure Iceland’s economic and commercial interests with the United Kingdom
- Iceland should become an active participant on debates on the Arctic and work towards establishing an international security and rescue centre based in the country
- Continue to remain at the forefront of human rights and equality and strengthen development aid
- Increase support temporarily for sheep farming due to a 30% decline in prices for products
- Ensure current livestock contracts provide for the long-term stability of the industry
- Make sure foodstuffs are clearly branded with source, method of production and environmental impact
- Opposes any privatisation of Landsvirkjun, the national energy company, as it plays a key role in utilising clean and renewable energy for the country’s benefit
- Ensure electricity security in the country
Environment and natural resources
- Reduce our pollution and carbon emissions by promoting the use of electric cars, add more charging points across the country and increase the use of carbon sinks with forestry and land reclamation
- Greatly reduce the use of plastics with incentives for the use of environmentally friendly packaging
- Increase government contributions to road network, including maintenance and construction of new roads, to increase road safety
- Reject plans to increase oil tax whilst infrastructure for electric cars is improved
- Create a new Constitution that includes provisions for direct democracy
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at a party that went from foundation to government in only five months last year – the Reform Party.