Is The Government About To Collapse?

Published December 5, 2011

In many countries, the above question might lead to pundits punditing and even stock markets crashing. In Iceland, the possibility is taken in stride, and not just because we no longer have a stock market to speak of.
In fact, it has been asked pretty relentlessly ever since the current government took power in the aftermath of the ‘Pots and pans revolution’ of January 2009. And it has often been close. Even though this is the first left-wing government in this country in recent history, sometimes more seems to divide the parties than unite them. And this despite accolades from almost every foreign observer on their handling of the crisis.
UNEASY BEDFELLOWS
The Social-Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) are still held in disgrace by many after having formed a ruling coalition with the conservative Independence Party in the years leading up to the economic collapse. It took the largest protests in Icelandic history in early 2009 for this government to resign. Even under a new party leader, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, many of their former ministers are still in office, the party leader included. This is not the new beginning many had hoped for. Some party leaders from smaller towns have resigned from the party, either claiming the party has ventured too far left, or not left enough.
Their partners, the Left-Green Party (Vinstrihreyfingin—grænt framboð), have a clean slate when it comes to pre-collapse guilt, having been out of power since the party was founded in 1999. This led to some success in the post-collapse election, but ever since the party seems like it has been falling apart. In fact, three of their MPs left the party last spring, bringing their Parliamentary strength down to twelve. This is in addition to twenty representatives of the Alliance party, out of the sixty-three members in the Icelandic Parliament in total.
This led to Independence Party Chair Bjarni Benediktsson, who had been weakened in his own party after supporting the government in the Icesave dispute, to try for a vote of no confidence last April. The government barely hung on by a majority of one. This means, in effect, that members of both ruling parties can hold the government hostage if they so choose. This is particularly difficult for the Left-Greens, where party discipline seems non-existent.
THE TROUBLESOME TWO
Two ministers in particular are known for going their own way. One is Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson, who has already left the government once (over the ever-present Icesave dispute) before being brought back. He recently caused a furore with the coalition Alliance Party when he refused to grant an exemption to allow Chinese investor Huang Nubo to buy land at Grímsstaðir to build a luxury hotel. Some claim that the land is a strange choice for a hotel, being quite remote, while questioning Mr. Nubo’s finances and suggesting he might be acting for the Chinese government instead. Mr. Nubo is a former roommate of the husband of former Alliance Party Chair Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir and thus well connected to that party.
Ögmundur, while arguing that he was simply following the letter of the law by denying land purchases to citizens outside the European Economic Area, is hardly unbiased himself, saying that he also opposes land sales to non-Icelandic EEA citizens. The Left-Greens have proclaimed themselves to be in favour of Ögmundur’s decision, further angering their coalition partners.
A SHAKE-UP IN THE WORKS?
As if this wasn’t enough, the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Left-Green Jón Bjarnason, is also acting on his own accord. One of the major goals of the current government is reform of the so-called quota system, which leaves control of Iceland’s fisheries in the hands of a few individuals. Jón had his own committee propose changes, which are not seen as going far enough, without consulting the government. The Prime Minister then decided to take the matter out of Jón’s hands. In this case, the Left-Greens have declined to support their minister.
According to recent updates, Jón may soon be removed from his post, and Minster of Industry Katrín Júlíusdóttir of the Alliance will soon go on maternity leave. This would lead to a considerable shake-up in ministry posts as both parties start to prepare for the next elections, due in the spring of 2013.
THE TROUBLE WITH EUROPE
The question then is whether Jón will withdraw his support for the shaky majority. In this case, the government will have to rely on Guðmundur Steingrímsson, an MP without a party (voted to Alþingi as member of the Progressive Party), who has pledged his support.
Another major disruptive factor is EU membership, with the Alliance strongly in favour and the Left-Greens opposed. However, with Europe’s current economic troubles, the membership talks have little support from the nation and might not be concluded before the next elections anyway.
So, will the government hold up this time? As always, the situation is tenuous, but the fact is that neither party sees much hope in going elsewhere. Any new government would probably have to rely on the Independence Party, and neither one wants to go there. The Alliance is still reeling from their last collaboration with the conservatives, and the Left-Greens are even less willing to work with their ideological opposites, even if they now happen to agree on Europe. The government coalition might therefore hold up for a while yet, if only due to lack of alternatives. Then again, who can tell? It might burst by the time this goes to print!  



Mag
Opinion
So What’s This Lack Of Army I Keep Hearing About?

So What’s This Lack Of Army I Keep Hearing About?

by

Iceland has no army. It does operate a Coast Guard, which does have four ships, three of which are combat-ready vessels. The Coast Guard has a wide variety of guns at its disposal, from cannons to handguns. But it is not really a navy in any kind of traditional sense. The National Police Commissioner also has a Special Unit of 50 police officers, nicknamed “The Viking Squad,” which has several units specialized in various aspects of armed conflict. Viking Squad? Should monks in Britain and France start locking their doors at night and pray for safety from the wrath of

Mag
Opinion
A Spaceship In Iceland!

A Spaceship In Iceland!

by

A specially prepared Boeing 747 NASA aircraft landed at Keflavík Airport in May of 1983. This would probably not have made any headlines, had the plane not been carried the NASA space shuttle ‘Enterprise’ on its back. This strange flying object passed over Reykjavík before landing at Keflavík, which at the time was, of course, still the US Navy base NASKEF. The aircraft and its cargo were in Iceland for a fuel stop on their way to Paris, to attend an air show. The ‘Enterprise’ was the first ever space shuttle and was used for test flights in the atmosphere,

Mag
Opinion
An Ornamental Resignation

An Ornamental Resignation

by

Today, (now former) Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir resigned from her post, one year and one day after her ministry leaked a memo to select members of the press containing falsehoods and misinformation about Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos. As one of the first people to call for her resignation, you’d think I’d be doing a little victory dance on my desk right now over this. After all, this resignation comes just days after her former assistant, Gísli Freyr Valdórsson, was found guilty of breach of confidentiality for his part in the whole thing and a slew of

Mag
Opinion
Regarding Julien Blanc

Regarding Julien Blanc

by

I do not think we should prevent him from coming here. Barring people from coming here is stupid. Why make a martyr out of him? Scumbags like him are always the first ones to celebrate censorship and deportation. Because fuckwits like him like to pretend they are the true champions of freedom of speech, and use that rhetoric ad nauseam to justify the diarrhoea that flows from their throats so freely. If we deny him entry, he’ll brag about it on Twitter and probably get loads of retweets from a sad army of braindead, semen-reeking, backwards-baseball-cap-wearing humanoids. He’ll be a

Mag
Opinion
All Highly Unlikely

All Highly Unlikely

by

The freedom fighter Last things first: Styrmir Gunnarsson, former editor of Morgunblaðið, has published his memoirs from the Cold War. As reported, these disclose, among other things, that during most of the 1960s, Styrmir provided the Independence Party’s Chair and Minister of the Interior with information about the interal affairs of two socialist groups, retrieved at weekly meetings with an undercover informant. Styrmir’s first years as a journalist at Morgunblaðið overlapped with this activity. In interviews, the former editor keeps insisting that there was nothing wrong with all that, so far without facing anyone who might claim that yes, there

Mag
Opinion
Old Men, Addicted To Power

Old Men, Addicted To Power

by

I’m sitting in a cab waiting for Karin. She is the youngest member of the travel party, and it is our first time travelling together. We are en route to the airport, headed to Toronto. Young Karin is being invited, along with the rest of us, on a mission to showcase Icelandic culture across North-America. The big picture is that by doing these concerts, more tourists will eventually make their way to Iceland, and spend more money. This is essentially a win-win situation for all involved. It’s nice, being a musician in Iceland. Our society supports its musicians, which in

Show Me More!