Parliament Responds to Protests

5.10.2010
Words by Paul Nikolov
Members of both the ruling coalition and the opposition have had different responses to last night's protests in front of parliament, but they do seem to agree on one thing - relieving household debt should be the first priority.

Some 8,000 people by some counts gathered in front of parliament last night in a largely peaceful demonstration, mostly protesting the government's handling of Iceland's domestic economic situation, as many households face mounting debts and foreclosures.

Adding to her previous statement to extend the "hand of agreement" to protesters, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir added at a press conference today that she is certain that the ruling coalition can reach an agreement with members of the opposition as to how to best deal with the debts Icelandic households are now facing. She also reiterated that that nation's banks - which are now mostly completely privatized - need to do more to assist families struggling with loan payments.

Social Democrat MP Ólína Þorvarðardóttir, writing on her blog, has called upon people to recognize that there is no "magic solution" to the problems in this country, and that no matter how many revolutions there may be, or what party is in power, the task at hand will remain the same.

Many conservatives have been calling for new elections, with Independence Party MP Jón Gunnarsson going as far as to say there should be new elections this spring. The conservatives are currently polling at about 35%, making them the largest party in the country at the moment.

Other members of the opposition, such as Movement MP Þór Saari, have suggested instead a "national government", i.e., a government comprised of all political parties - only he would like to see such a coalition exclude the conservatives. The Independence Party was driven from power in the wake of popular protests in 2009, and The Movement arose from the activist base of those protests.

The prime minister has ruled out a national government and new elections. However, both she and Minister of Finance Steingrímur J. Sigfússon have said that they intend to put the matter of relieving household debt at the top of the list of priorities for the fall session of parliament.

In related news, blogger and former editor of DV Jónas Kristjánsson wrote an article saying that people would be better off attacking the banks rather than parliament, his argument being that the popular protests of 2009 succeeded because they focused on the right individuals responsible for the situation. Today, it is, for the most part, the policy of largely private banks that is making things difficult for Icelandic families.

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