Written by By, Renee Lync, PhD
Renee has the following experience on electoral reform:
Renee Lync is a lecturer and researcher in politics at Cardiff University and is also an electoral-reform activist. She is the co-founder of Iceland Elects in partnership with Bremen-based AllSafe, one of the leading electoral-reform organisations in Europe.
For the first time in modern Iceland’s history, the country elected a female parliamentarian and an independent parliamentarian to sit on its legislature after the fall of the former center-right government.
Marina Sigurdardottir was elected as an independent to the seat of SD (Suspicious), the largest party in the parliament, with just over 35% of the vote. The SD has been strongly in favor of real campaign finance reform and publicly pledged not to use corporate donations. In contrast, the former coalition government of the Landsbaðr/Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson used corporate donors to fund the party during its 2011 election campaign.
Sigurdardottir pledged to “go forward with all stakeholders to create a strong and powerful parliament in order to respond to the needs of our people.”
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A former leader of the Public Enterprise Ministry, Sigurdardottir replaces Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson as SD’s prime minister designate. Grímsson lost the election in a humiliating performance for the post of prime minister. The SD did even worse and lost three seats.
Antithesis of the main political party, SPD, SD represents a radical left-wing alternative to other Icelandic political parties on economic and public spending issues. Former prime minister Grímsson was a charismatic leader in a career spent on public service and public finance but until now, had no political experience.
A right-wing coalition – which included one of the SD’s leaders – was narrowly elected with 47.9% of the vote compared to 45.9% for a Socialist Party Alliance-dominated coalition.
SL Vák, also from the SPD (Strýku Sveriges Soluida i), was elected as the first female president. Vák was the first woman to join a parliamentary committee in the 1930s.
No other Icelandic party won more than 7% of the vote.
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The prospects for other female candidates has also become increasingly constrained. Women are considerably less likely to seek public office in Iceland than in other countries, where a growing number of women are running for office.
In 2011, 15% of parliamentarians were women, more than double in France and Germany.
There is a popular perception that male candidates do not like working hard and make the female candidate persona non grata.
The women sitting in Parliament now have a 60% share of the seats in the Icelandic Chamber of Deputies, and represent both the three major parties and the three center-left/center-right parties.
However, none of the country’s three center-left parties, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s three parties or Sigurdardottir’s other party, SD, are on the same political ideology.
On paper, it is possible for these parties to join a single-largest coalition, but so far none have taken the initiative, due to party interest in staying on the center right of the spectrum.
Iceland’s Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson in his election victory speech. Credit: KEO RUED/EPA/EPA
The combination of larger parties, which are ideologically aligned, has prevented any coalition from being formed until now. None of the parties’ policies appear to offer meaningful ways of reducing the polarization and volatility of politics that characterizes modern Icelandic politics.
The ability of the new government to take a decisive decision or plan will be an important test of the unity of Iceland’s fragmented political system.
On a broader scale, Iceland’s election campaign resulted in far greater electoral participation by the population than in any other recent election. In 2011, only 24% of the population voted, compared to 65% in this election. In New Zealand, by comparison, just over 30% of the population took part in the 2017 general election.