Today, thousands of Icelanders are going to the polls for the second time in a year amid a dark cloud of political corruption. Here’s what you need to know:
Why are Iceland going back to the polls?
Snap elections were called last month following a scandal involving Iceland’s decades-old ‘restored honour‘ law, a process that allows certain civil rights to be restored to convicted criminals five years after completing their sentence. It was revealed during the Icelandic parliament’s summer recess that the Prime Minister’s father had written a letter of recommendation to support a paedophile’s application to have his honour restored. The man, Hjalti Sigurjón, was convicted in 2004 of raping his stepdaughter over a period of seven years.
After one of the coalition partners, Bright Future, quit the coalition government citing a ‘serious breach of trust’, Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson called for fresh elections.
The election is the second snap election in a year, with the previous government being brought down over a tax haven scandal. Leaked documents revealed in last year’s Panama Papers showed that then-PM Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson owned an offshore company with his wife but did not declare it. The company, which held assets in some of the failed Icelandic banks, allegedly profited from some of the decisions made by Sigmundur Davíð while in office. He denies wrongdoing.
How does Iceland elect its MPs?
The Icelandic parliament, the Althing, is comprised of 63 MPs, elected from six provinces using proportional representation. As a result, a majority government consisting of just one party is almost unheard of in Icelandic politics, meaning coalitions are created after the election to form the government.
Polls opened at 9am local time this morning and will close at 10pm (11pm BST), with first results expected shortly after. Early reports suggest turnout is the highest for almost a decade.
Who’s on the ballot?
Twelve different political parties are contesting today’selection, with two only contesting some constituencies. The full list is below:
- People’s Front (far left – not all constituencies)
- Left-Green Movement (left)
- Social Democratic Alliance (centre-left)
- Pirate Party (syncretic)
- People’s Party (populist)
- Bright Future (centre)
- Dawn (centre – not all constituencies)
- Reform Party (centre/centre-right)
- Centre Party (centre/centre-right)
- Progressive Party (centre-right)
- Independence Party (centre-right/right)
The Icelandic National Front, a far-right political party formed last year, was due to take part in the election but withdrew its lists.
Who will win the election?
Polling suggests a close race between the ruling Independence Party and the Left-Green Movement. The Left-Green Movement, led by Katrín Jakobsdóttir, had enjoyed a strong lead after elections were called, but Independence is now likely to again be the largest party.
The big winners of the election are expected to be the Left-Green Movement, the Social Democratic Alliance and the newly-formed Centre Party. Meanwhile, the Progressive Party and Reform are expected to lose several seats in parliament, with Bright Future likely to fall short of the five percent threshold needed to enter the Althing.
Judging by the most recent opinion polls, it appears impossible for a coalition of only two parties to be formed. A three-party coalition of Independence and two centre-right parties may be possible, but would only have a slim majority. Alternatively, some have suggested that a centre-left government may come to power for the first time since 2009 – but would require the support of a centrist party and the Pirate Party.
As a result, like the last election, it appears that the Reform Party could once again take the role of kingmaker in government formation talks.