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Dawn Of The Populists

Dawn Of The Populists

Photos by
Inga Sæland

Published September 22, 2017

Municipal elections are coming up next spring, but parliamentary elections are rapidly approaching, coming up on October 28. The usual suspects will be throwing their hats into the ring, but three relatively new parties—the Icelandic National Front, the Freedom Party and the People’s Party—are also contenders. What these three parties have in common is a decidedly populist agenda: patriotism, increased support for marginalised Icelanders (albeit selectively) and varying levels of xenophobia.

The municipal elections actually have the largest pool of available voters, because they are the only elections that foreigners can vote in. If you’re a Nordic national who’s been living in Iceland for three years, or any other kind of foreigner who’s been living in Iceland for five years, you can vote in these elections in the municipality where you have legal residence. However, parliament comes first, so it would help you to know who these newcomers are.

1. The Icelandic National Front (INF). This right wing party made headlines in 2016 when they staged a protest against changes to the Law on Foreigners, and ended up getting outnumbered by counter-protesters at a ratio of about four to one (also, hilariously, they were protesting against changes to the law that did not actually exist). The INF is comprised mostly of listeners of Útvarp Saga, a controversial radio station which has been called out numerous times for spreading misinformation about foreigners and Muslims. And it’s Muslims that the INF is most concerned about. Scroll through its Facebook group, and you might see the occasional post about increasing payouts to the elderly and the disabled, but the predominant fixation appears to be that Islam is a dangerous religion that will take over Iceland if nothing is done to stop it. As such, voters could be forgiven for not knowing exactly what the INF stands for beyond “Muslims bad.” Perhaps because of this, their poll numbers are abysmally low, and their chances of getting a seat in parliament, let alone any municipality, are practically none.

2. The Freedom Party (FP). The most ironically named party since the Liberal Party, an older and now-defunct xenophobic conservative party that disappeared from view some ten years ago. This party arose primarily from the most active posters in the Facebook group Stjórnamálaspjallið (The Political Chat), a group that was once a place for Icelanders to discuss politics and current events but is now a veritable hive of virulent racism and xenophobia. The most prominent figure in this party is Margrét Friðríksdóttir, a person best known for being very active on social media, where she has said all kinds of badly misinformed things about foreigners, which for whatever reason drew the attention of local media, who would ask her to repeat her wrong opinions for their articles, despite her having no qualifications to comment on these subjects other than her having opinions on them. The main platform points of this party include building up the police force, increasing surveillance, and tightening border security. Which, you know, has everything to do with freedom. Their poll numbers are currently too low to win a single seat in either parliament or city hall, and as Margrét recently announced her departure from the party in favour of supporting the People’s Party, they are likely to go the way of the INF.

3. The People’s Party (PP). Of all the populist parties, this is the only one that right now stands an actual chance of winning seats next spring, and is also arguably the least terrible out of all of them. Which doesn’t necessarily make them good, mind you, but it does mean they talk about things other than foreigners. This party is led by Inga Sæland, a newcomer to politics who we interviewed a couple issues back. At that time, she said some fairly reasonable things about asylum seekers. In other parts of the media, not so much—last February, she went so far as to post on her party’s Facebook page that asylum seekers are given free rental cars, which is patently false. Nonetheless, the two main focus points for the PP are the elderly and the disabled, who are oftentimes one and the same, as they rightfully contend that their pensions and stipends are sorely lacking. Inga does have a certain grandmotherly charm about her, which has endeared her to voters. The latest polls show them at 11% for parliamentary elections elections—a remarkable result for such a young party. How they will fare in parliament remains to be seen.

It might be encouraging that Iceland’s more xenophobic voters have split themselves up into three parties, but bear in mind that more established parties are very adept at taking up policy positions of smaller parties in the hopes of sopping up voters. So while you might see very little of these parties in City Hall or Parliament, their policies might still have a chance.


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