From Iceland — Presidential Candidates: Baldur Þórhallsson

Presidential Candidates: Baldur Þórhallsson

Published May 9, 2024

Presidential Candidates: Baldur Þórhallsson

In light of the upcoming Icelandic presidential elections, we reached out to all candidates for answers to our pressing questions. Here is what one of them said.

Baldur Þórhallsson

Please provide your name, age and current occupation. 

Baldur Þórhallsson, professor of political science at the University of Iceland. Born in 1968 or 56 years old.

Why do you want to be president?  

Human rights are being threatened — basic human rights — on both sides of the Atlantic, including women’s rights and the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Democracy itself is under threat and misinformation and hate speech are massive challenges. Unrest is prevalent in Europe and the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is heartbreaking. I strive to focus on international issues and that we become successful in the society of nations. That’s why my husband and I decided to heed the call loud and clear in deciding to run.

Why should people vote for you for president rather than another candidate? 

I believe that we can unite the country and nation into one whole. I want us to focus on what unifies us. I will always, as I have done until now, guard human rights and secure our interests abroad. Additionally, I want us to be a leading force among nations in the issues of children just as we lead on issues of equality.

What is the role of the president and how will you fulfil it? 

The president is the nation’s unifying symbol. There is a direct relationship between the nation and president, free of intermediaries, and the president needs to always, without exception, keep the national interest foremost in his mind. The president should respect parliamentary democracy in all general terms and he is to ensure that the country has an operational government based on Alþingi’s will. In my mind, the president should be the guardian of the social contract; the principles we have agreed upon and have served us well.  

The president holds a power of agenda in Icelandic societal discourse. We want to use the president’s power of agenda for the sake of unifying topics which the president prioritises and specifically adopts. 

Additionally, it is imperative that the president represents the nation abroad. The president needs to support the authorities and guard the nation’s interests in the international community. The president can open many doors abroad — both for politicians and the people in the country. We should use the presidential office to open doors and bring people together.   

In our opinion, the president should emphasise the human rights of all his fellow citizens, support those who are worse off, and emphasise the issues of children and young people.

What is not the role of the president? 

For example, it is not the President’s role to make agreements with foreign states, although he can open doors which could lead to such agreements. It is the incumbent government which shapes the foreign policy of Iceland in conjunction with Alþingi. It is also not the President’s role to bring legislative bills before Alþingi. 

If elected, what would be your first order of business as president? 

To put this country’s future on the agenda, the wellbeing of children and young people.  

If elected, would you put a cap on how many terms you would foresee yourself serving? 

No leader is irreplaceable and the constant renewal of elected officials is a sign of a healthy democracy. It is the nation that ultimately controls how long individuals stay in power. There are a few examples of presidents serving for longer than two terms and still received considerable support for more than two terms. Thus, whether presidents should sit longer than two terms is always the nation’s decision, and I trust the nation completely for that task. 

What are your views on the Presidential veto powers?  

The President should respect the parliamentary democracy in all general terms. However, suppose Alþingi overreaches for some reason and goes against the social contract and the rules we have honoured. In that case, the President needs to be ready to intervene and move issues directly to the nation. This might include if plans were to limit freedom of speech, women’s or LGBTQ+ rights. Perhaps this sounds, fortunately, like far-fetched circumstances here in Iceland. But we’ve unfortunately seen this happen in a growing capacity in countries in our region of the world. 

In what circumstances do you think is appropriate to use presidential veto powers? 

The President needs to assess and value every instance of whether a law limits the civil rights of people, is a burden to society, and whether the law is irreversible. Then, the President needs to assess and value whether the law infringes upon the freedom of speech, religion, vocation, or the rights of minority groups or others in the society. My position applies to whether or not the President agrees with the legislation.  

Additionally, the President needs to constantly keep a good relationship with the people in the country, but he needs to be capable of assessing whether parliament and the people agree. 

Using the Icesave negotiations as an example. Whether or not the president agreed or disagreed, he was bound to bring the case before the people because the president reasoned that the agreement would be a burden on the nation and future generations. In such cases, the nation needs to have the last word. 

A second example: It would not be an option to enter the European Union without a referendum, regardless of the president’s opinion. It is also not an option, in my opinion, to confirm the establishment of a military without a referendum. Personally, I am against the establishment of a military. We are a military-free nation and should continue being one. 

What are your thoughts on constitutional reform? 

Generally, the constitution has proved us well, but it is necessary to bring many of its items to modern-day. I believe the best method to be successful in that case is to make small changes in good harmony.

If elected, how do you envision your interactions with other heads of state?

The president needs to support the authorities in guarding the nation’s interests in the international community in his interactions with other heads of state. The president can open many doors abroad – both for the authorities and the country’s people. We should use the presidential office to open doors and bring people together. The president should, without exception, speak for a peaceful resolution of conflicts – and his baseline rhetoric should always be to advocate for peace. 

 I have spent my life’s work, more than 30 years,  researching how small states can guarantee their interests in the best possible way and be a force for good in the society of nations. Our small size and location offer opportunities, as Icelanders have previously demonstrated. But to be successful abroad is best achieved by certain methods – methods which small states like the other Nordic countries have used successfully.   

We need to prioritise which issues we should work towards – but what’s most important is to start doing our homework! We should start by achieving success domestically, for example in the issues of children and young people, by fortifying the position of women, and by standing foremost among other nations in general human rights. Such achievements increase respect and our place in the international community and leads to us being listened to.  

Maybe we don’t build our own icebreakers like the great nations which split the icebergs in the north. But if we have the will, bravery, and courage to make ourselves heard and if we do our homework diligently, we could be an icebreaker in the issues we choose to emphasise, both domestically and internationally.

If you have a spouse/partner, how active do they envision themselves during your time at Bessastaðir? 

Felix and I want to use Bessastaðir for the benefit of children and young people. Both of us have worked towards human rights for over 30 years and Felix has specifically worked for the rights of children and adolescents. We want to use this experience. We know the feeling of not being able to be ourselves and enjoy all the opportunities our good society offers. 

Felix and I were startled by the news that only 4% of disabled children in Iceland participate in organised sports — and we know that the income and background of parents have a say in children’s active participation in organised sports in society. There, we must do better. 

Another worrisome issue is the distress among young people. We want to participate in eradicating distress which certainly does not need to be there. We believe that it is appropriate that the president initiates bringing together the different groups working together for the wellness of children and young people. 

Which former president would you aspire to emulate and why? 

I will seek inspiration from former Presidents when it comes to unifying issues which the President prioritises and adopts specifically. For example, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became the guardian of the Icelandic language and directed our attention to environmental conservation and the interests of children – and was way ahead of her time. And Guðni Th. Jóhannesson has done this by prioritising public health and working towards the welfare of everyone in his special and sincere way. That is how a president can use his power of agenda, which the office brings, to pave the way to a better world. We should use the presidential office to open doors and bring people together. Just like Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has done spectacularly in the issues of the Arctic.

This article includes the full responses of one presidential candidate. Click here to see what the other candidates said

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