Sunday, 30 October 2016

My analysis of the Icelandic elections of 2016

Recently, Iceland's parliament, the Althing, held its latest parliamentary election, which was called early after a scandal involving offshore tax funds prompted calls for new elections. The world's media then focused on the leader of the Pirate Party, Birgitta Jonsdottir, since she was tipped to be the next Prime Minister of Iceland and because she was leading the most successful Pirate Party in the world. (By comparison, Britain's Pirate Party is barely existing, and Germany's has fallen from grace)

Despite all these expectations, the Pirate Party actually finished third in the poll, behind the Left-Green movement (Iceland's Green Party) albeit with the same number of seats (10) as Left-Green and with them nearly trebling their 2013 performance (14.5% vs. 5.1%). This is because a lot of the Pirates' base is among young voters, who as in other countries are less inclined to vote than older people; the problem of young abstainers is by no means confined to the UK. Nor is the problem of long-term turnout decreases; turnout for Icelandic elections is among the highest in democratic countries but it dropped this year from 81.4% to 79.2%, in spite of the increasing influence of both the Left-Green and Pirate Parties. It was the Progressive Party (an equivalent of Finland's Centre Party in practice) who deservedly suffered the worst drubbing, ending up with just 8 seats, losing more than half of their 2013 vote, and finishing a poor fourth overall. Pro-European splinter group Vidresin (the name means 'Regeneration' in Icelandic) was partly responsible for this, winning 7 seats, although its parent party, the conservative and Eurosceptic Independence Party, won 21 seats, an increase of 2 from 2013 despite having been a partner in the previous coalition government. Its leader, Bjami Benediktsson, is now set to become Iceland's next Prime Minister, having already served as Minister of Finance & Economic Affairs for Iceland, given that the centre-right parties now have an aggregate majority in the Althing. Social democracy as an ideology continued its global slide into political irrelevance with Iceland's Social Democrats being knocked down to 3 seats and 7th place in the poll. In fact, they only survived by achieving enough votes for top-up seats (5.74% of the vote). Another disappointment was the failure of the People's Party, campaigning on improving conditions for the poor and disabled to win any seats.

It is rather a pity that Iceland will not be electing its first female Prime Minister this time around, since neither Katrin Jakobsdottir nor Birgitta Jonsdottir will be able to secure the progressive majority needed; Vidreisn will likely align with the two previous coalition parties within formation of the next government of Iceland.

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