Iceland’s incumbent Prime Minister and longest serving active Member of Parliament Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir announced her retirement from politics at the end of September. In a letter to members of her party, The Social Democratic Alliance, she said she would not seek re-election and would retire as chair of the party at the end of the current term this spring, closing a political career that spans over 40 years.
Jóhanna first became involved in politics in 1966, when she occupied the fifth seat on the ticket for Reykjavík City Council with the now-defunct Social Democratic Party. She had then recently been elected head of the Stewardess Union. Jóhanna remained active in the union struggle for years, before (and after) taking a seat in Parliament in 1978 as a member of the Social Democratic Party.
In 1987, Jóhanna, by then the vice-chair of the party, was appointed to the cabinet, as Minister for Social Affairs, a post she held until 1994, which was a turbulent year in her political career. She formed her own political party, National Awakening, after losing an in-party election for the leadership of Social Democratic Party (the two parties would later re-emerge, along with other small parties from the left wing to form the current Social Democratic Alliance). In a fiery farewell speech to the 1994 Social Democratic Party congress, Jóhanna made the famous claim that “her time would come,” (since then an Icelandic catchphrase) before storming off stage.
And that it did. Following the near-collapse of Icelandic society in the wake of the financial meltdown of 2008, Jóhanna was called upon to take charge of the rebuilding efforts. For the 2009 parliamentary election, she was asked to lead the Social Democratic Alliance, a party that was likely to be in a key position after the election. Citing her long-standing reputation as a champion of social welfare and just causes, her party claimed that she was the one person who could unite a fragmented nation after the uproar of 2008.
Following the election of 2009, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the first female prime minister in the history of Iceland, and the first openly gay person to become the head of government in the world. Jóhanna and her spouse were also one of the first gay couples to become legally wedded in Iceland after her government voted, unopposed, to allow it in 2010.
No Icelandic politician has ever been faced with a task quite like the one Jóhanna took on in leading the government post-financial collapse of 2008. The results of Jóhanna’s reform government are up for debate, and in all fairness, it is probably too early to pass judgment on her accomplishments as prime minister, one way or the other.
But ideology and methodology aside, there is no denying that the Icelandic political landscape just became a little flatter with Jóhanna’s retirement. She has been one of the most colourful Icelandic politicians of the era, and transgressed boundaries for both women and gay people. However the judgment of history will come down on her government, she always fought the good fight.
JÓHANNA SIGURÐARDÓTTIR CV
Date of Birth: October 4th, 1942
Party: The Social Democratic Alliance
Chairman of the Social Democratic Alliance since 2009.
Member of Althingi for the Reykjavík Constituency 1978-2003, for the Reykjavík South Constituency 2003-2007 and for the Reykjavík North Constituency since 2007.
Deputy Speaker of Althingi 1979,1983-1984 and 2003-2007.
Prime Minister since 2009.
Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security 2007-2009.
Minister of Social Affairs 1987–1994.