Iceland Decides 2017: Ruling party ahead despite election losses

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Image: worldislandinfo.com

Iceland’s main centre-right party has remained the largest party after a snap election yesterday.

The Independence Party, led by current Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, has lost five seats in parliament but has remained the largest party with 16 seats and almost 25% of the vote.

Their closest contenders, the Left-Green Movement, failed to meet expectations in opinion polls, winning 11 seats.

Speaking as results were announced, Prime Minister Benediktsson said “we are the biggest party [and] I think it’s normal that we should be part of a future government. However, he added that forming a workable government “won’t be easy”.

The Social Democratic Alliance were among the big winners of the election, more than doubling their share of the vote and their number of seats. The populist People’s Party surpassed expectations, winning its first seats in parliament, and the newly-formed Centre Party won seven seats.

Despite the disappointing results, Left-Green Movement leader, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is hopeful that a left-leaning coalition can be formed, saying: “The opposition has a majority… but we have also discussed maybe doing things differently and creating a broader government”.

Bright Future suffered a great defeat in the election. The party, which had triggered the election after quitting the coalition government, lost its parliamentary representation and shrunk to just 1.2% of the vote (down from 7.2% just last year).

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Possible coalitions

For a majority in the Icelandic parliament, a coalition needs 32 seats. It is therefore impossible to form a two-party coalition – the type that Icelanders are more used to in their history. The last government, made up of Independence, the Reform Party and Bright Future, no longer hold a majority in parliament – making up only 20 seats. As a result, Iceland is heading for a new government, but the question is what arrangement will that government look like?

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Four different three-party coalitions are possible, but all four would require the Independence Party and the Left-Green Movement to work together in government. Any attempt for the Independence Party to form a coalition without the Left-Green Movement would fall short of an overall majority. Potential partners could include the Progressive Party, the Pirate Party, the Social Democratic Alliance and the newly-formed Centre Party. Of these, the Progressive Party, with its experience in government and number of seats, is perhaps the most likely. However, all three would have to compromise on policy.

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A variety of four-party coalitions could be formed. Independence could form a right-leaning coalition alongside the Progressive Party, the Centre Party and the Reform Party, granting it a majority of 3. However, some in the Independence Party have been unwilling to work with Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the Centre Party leader, after the Panama Papers scandal last year, his claims that George Soros was to blame for his downfall and his recent attacks on Icelandic media. It is also unclear how willing the Progressive Party would be to work with Gunnlaugsson, just months after he split from the party to form his own political movement.

Alternatively, Independence could ditch the Centre Party in favour of the People’s Party to form a government with a majority of one. Although this would resolve the issue of working with Gunnlaugsson, the party’s more left-wing views and stance on immigration could cause issues.

On the left, the Left-Green Movement also only have one option to form a four-party coalition, working with the Progressive Party, the Social Democratic Alliance and the Pirate Party. This is perhaps more likely to be successful, but the Progressives centre-right ideology could cause some conflict and would require negotiation on the direction the potential government would take on certain matters. With a majority of just one, any disagreement on controversial issues could spell disaster.

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A five-party coalition has never been successfully formed in Iceland’s political history, let alone in the Icelandic parliament. At the last election, an attempt to form a five-party coalition of all parties except for the Independence and Progressive parties failed due to substantial policy differences.

Such an arrangement would only be needed to create a left-leaning government, comprising of the Left-Green Movement, the Social Democratic Alliance, the Pirate Party, the People’s Party and the Reform Party. The parties share some common ground, particularly on social matters, but monetary policies and the People’s Party’s stance on immigration could cause significant issues for the stability of such a coalition. A potential solution could be to form a minority government, with a confidence and supply agreement with the People’s Party on important matters.

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