Published May 21, 2013
To put it in simple terms, the two right-wing political parties in Iceland, The Independence Party and The Progressive Party, each won 19 out of 63 seats in the Icelandic parliament. This has caused much bafflement in the non-Icelandic press as this means that 60.3% of the members of the incoming parliament belong to parties who are largely blamed for the 2008 financial crash. These two parties ruled together from 1995–2007 and their policies arguably created the conditions that resulted in the collapse of the Icelandic banking sector.
HOW CAN ICELANDERS BE SO FORGIVING?
Not so much forgiving as angry and looking for an outlet. Since the financial crash, anger has torn through Iceland like Godzilla through Tokyo. The outgoing left-wing government MPs were like earnest scientists trying various ways to get Godzilla to return to the ocean from whence it came. To add to the foreign media’s puzzlement over the election result, the left-wing government was widely held to have been extremely successful in terms of their economic stewardship. Their opponents, however, had Godzilla on their side.
SO THE RIGHT-WING TEAMED UP WITH GODZILLA TO BATTER THE LEFT-WING?
The story is a little bit more complicated than that. The more right-wing of the two parties, The Independence Party, did not do as well in the election as expected. In fact its 26.7% vote-share is the second lowest the party has ever received in a national election, the lowest being the 2009 election just after the financial crash. Nevertheless, it did get the largest share of votes. However The Progressive Party went from 14.8% to 24.4%, getting its best result since 1979. The two parties together received just a shade over 51% of the total vote.
THE PROGRESSIVE PARTY THAT CLAIMED THE ANGRY VOTE?
Yes, they harnessed the anger of the Icelandic electorate and rode it to victory, like everyone who has triumphed in Icelandic elections since the financial crash. The left-wing parties were the obvious beneficiaries of anti-capitalist anger in the post-crash 2009 parliamentary election. In 2010, the Best Party, led by comedian Jón Gnarr and his hipster buddies, appealed to anti-politician anger in Reykjavík’s municipal vote. In 2012, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson won re-election by presenting himself as the Icelandic people’s friend against foreign capitalists and treacherous politicians, mixed with a dose of “pretty ladies cannot be president” sexism against his female opponent.
WITH GODZILLA ON YOUR SIDE, NOTHING CAN DEFEAT YOU.
The left-wing did not help themselves. There were a total of fifteen parties running for parliament, of which ten could be reasonably argued were mainly of the left or appealed to voters who would vote for left-wing parties, and seven of those parties received more than one percent of the vote. The outgoing government failed to articulate a political programme that could unite left-wing voters, and its signature proposal for a new constitution died after right-wing filibustering. The left-wing parties even failed to unite their own MPs.
THE LEFT-WING DIDN’T SPLINTER SO MUCH AS NEVER BIND TOGETHER?
This fracturing of the left-wing started while the outgoing government was in power. They, the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green Movement, started with a majority of 34, but had effectively become a minority government by the end of it, as one Social Democratic MP and three Left-Green MPs left. Furthermore, the left-wing Citizen’s Movement party split in three. Due to this fracturing the left-wing parties received 39% of the seats in parliament, while winning 44% of the vote.
SO THEY SHOULD’VE LOST, BUT JUST NOT AS THOROUGHLY AS THEY DID.
Pretty much. Though the picture of left and right, which is reductive to begin with, is further complicated by the fact that The Progressive Party swept to victory on anti-capitalist rhetoric, saying it would lessen the debt-burden of Icelandic home-owners by taking money from what they term “vulture funds.” Though it should be clear this was not traditional left-wing anti-capitalism so much as an appeal to anti-foreign sentiment. Furthermore, one other reason for their success is residual goodwill The Progressive Party has in rural Iceland from back when it was the political arm of the farmers’ and village cooperatives movement.
WHAT DID THE PROGRESSIVE PARTY OFFER GODZILLA TO SECURE ITS FAVOUR?
Debt relief, 11.5% of the electorate are unable to pay their creditors, and many more are just barely keeping up. The Progressive Party said it would cut housing debts by 20%, though who exactly would qualify for this debt relief has not been made entirely clear. But that sounded good to Godzilla, and it hugged The Progressive Party to its chest. But no one knows if Godzilla will stay appeased or return to menace Icelandic society.