Last may 10th, the Icelandic national elections took place with an impressive turnout of almost 90% higher than in most countries (in the last American presidential elections only 40% voted) and probably some kind of record outside of dodgy dictatorships. I’m not sure if this huge difference is because we’re all so interested in politics and want to have something to say about our future, or if its just the fun of putting an X on a piece of paper and cadging free coffee.
In the weeks before, the Party’s launched their campaigns in the traditional way, with huge pictures of smiling politicians on every billboard, over phrases like “vote for freedom” or “vote for justice”, and so on. Of course, nobody cared and when the pictures of our elected liars and thieves with fake smiles were starting to get on peoples nerves, the tone suddenly changed and the parties tried a different approach.
After years of silence on the matter, taxes suddenly became the hottest campaign issue. The right wing incumbent Independence party started the pissing contest by promising 22 billion krónur worth of tax cuts Of course the mildly left Alliance party quickly pointed out that most of that money would go to the rich and instead proposed a modest 16 billion tax cut benefiting the poorest. The Progressive Party, the junior government partner, at the time facing political oblivion according to the polls, joined the game with their own 17 billion pledge.
Feeling some resentment from the voters and with the growing gap between rich and poor being a sore spot, the Independence Party raised their promise to 37 billion, making sure that everybody would benefit more from their suggestion. Stunned by this, none of the other parties dared to outbid them.
The list of other campaign promises ran long and included reducing tariffs on food, higher real estate loans and lower interest rates. In fact, the Independence Party was just an inch away from promising to send everyone bundles of cash in the mail though in the end all they could manage was coffee.
A lot of people found it funny, how when elections were in the air, there was suddenly plenty of money to lower taxes by several percent while at the same time, the police numbers were being reduced to stay on an ever tightening budget, and with a healthcare system groaning under the weight of severe government cut backs.
When the votes were cast and counted, at first, everybody seemed to have won. After the election night, the leaders of the minority each went on television to announce that their party was the real winner of this election. The leader of the Liberal Party proudly announced that his party doubled its number of parliamentarians, jumping from 2 to 4, while The Alliance Party got over thirty percent of the votes and became the second largest party. Even the leader of the Left Green Party felt victorious because they had lost less than expected.
At the same time, the leaders of the incumbent coalition happily announced that they would govern this country for four more years. They shed no tears over losing the trust of the people and 7% of their vote in four years. Thanks to a surprisingly good performance from their junior coalition partners the progressives they had the numbers for a third term and that, of course, is what matters at the end of the day.
Personality wise election 2003 saw the making and breaking of two of Icelands´ premier political figures Late last year, Halldór Ásgrímsson the leader of the Progressive Party, became a laughing stock when he admitted that he had the dream of becoming prime minister. Being one of the least popular politicians and joked about for never changing his facial expression or tone of voice, he was simply dismissed as delusional. At this time The Alliance party came forward with their candidate for prime minister, the mayor of Reykjavík, Ingibjörg Sólrún.Very popular and successful in leading the city for 8 years, she now became the leader of the opposition. On the back of her heavy weight personality the Alliance soared to undreamed of heights in the polls surpassing their biter rivals the independence party for the first time in history. Poor Halldór, on the other hand, didn’t even look like he would make it back into parliament.But, as they say in Westminster, even a week is a long time in politics never mind a few months. The alliance made that classic and unfortunate mistake of peaking too early and Halldor made the most impressive return from the dead since lazarus.
Now, no one is quite sure how it happened, but on Election Day, the Progressive Party got an impressive 17% of the votes, after having gone as low as 8% in the polls. Since the Independence Party and the Alliance Party are sworn enemies and the other party’s were too small, a new government would again have to include the Progressive Party, and Halldór would get to choose who went in with him.
The morning after the elections, The Alliance party, desperate to form a new government, offered Halldór his dream job as prime minister. With that offer, he then went to the Independence party, and accepted their offer to continue their coalition, with Halldor taking over as prime minister from David Oddsen within two years, something no one would have believed a few weeks ago. The man regarded by many as the doormat of the government, finally got his revenge. As for Ingibjörg Sólrún, well political fall from grace does not come much harder. Having quit her top job as mayor to run for prime minister, become briefly the most popular person in the country and the darling of the left, the cold political light of Sunday morning saw her miss even election to parliament by a handful of votes.
Now, only few weeks later with high political drama already a fading memory, all the promises are forgotten, the fake smiles have been removed, and most people can’t even remember who got elected. Here’s to four more years of blissful ignorance before we all become experts on politics again.