In a country dominated by the conservative Independence Party, Reykjavík remains in the control of an alliance called R-listinn, which used to be comprised of the right-of-centre Progressive Party, the centrist Alliance Party and the Leftist-Greens. This alliance currently holds eight of City Council’s fifteen seats and has kept the Independence Party out of power. While many have criticized R-listinn for lacking vision and allowing some Independence Party measures – such as the wildly unpopular reconstruction of the joining of Hringbraut and Miklabraut roads – to pass anyway, things could arguably be a lot worse. The Independence Party’s latest city planning proposal – which includes the creation of a freeway running down the middle of Reykjavík and the accelerated development of single-family homes in the west of town – has been rejected by R-listinn. In this way, Independence Party ideas that were deemed unsustainable by city planners the Grapevine spoke with in the feature of our previous issue have been kept off the table. However, these ideas might actually come to life after the municipal elections this spring, thanks to the Leftist-Green Party, which decided to leave R-listinn last Tuesday.
Upon hearing the news, the first thought that sprung to my mind was the old axiom, “United we stand; divided we fall.” Because of dissatisfaction with their own allies, the Leftist-Greens have broken ranks and have effectively given more power to the city plans of the Independence Party; ideas that the Leftist-Greens adamantly oppose. In many ways, the split reminds me of Ralph Nader’s decision to run for president in 2004 – in the process of supporting one agenda separate from people who are supposed to be your allies, you end up supporting a policy to which you’re diametrically opposed.
The Independence Party hasn’t really had to go after R-listinn to win control of the city, as in-fighting within the alliance has done a good enough job of dividing them. As Þorbjörg Helga Vigfúsdóttir of the Young Independence Party Association wrote in Morgunblaðið, “In the past days the Independence Party hasn’t needed to criticize R-listinn; party committees within the alliance have seriously seen about that themselves.”
Not that everyone in the Leftist-Greens is happy with the decision. As Björk Vilhelmsdóttir, a Leftist-Green representative on City Council, told Vísir last Monday, “I remember how it was when the Independence Party controlled everything here and I don’t want to live through that again.” Well said. Unfortunately, 70% of those from her party who attended a meeting in Reykjavík last Monday evening voted in favour of splitting off from the alliance.
Mayor of Reykjavík Steinunn Valdís Óskarsdóttir says that R-listinn will in all likelihood continue with the Alliance and Progressive Parties, and will run in the upcoming elections. There’s even been talk of trying to bring the Liberal Party – currently only holding one seat in City Council – under the umbrella of R-listinn. If R-listinn wants to survive, taking in the Liberals as well as putting a great deal more effort into selling their planning ideas to the public while pointing out the fallacies in Independence Party ideas all have to be at the front of their agenda.
To their credit, the Leftist-Greens are the first party to speak up so far in defence of the foreigners protesting the Kárahnjúkar dam project. At the same meeting where they just might have handed Reykjavík over to the Independence Party, they harshly criticized both the Ministry of Justice and the Office of Immigration for threatening to deport around 20 foreigners for their so far largely innocent protests on charges as harmless as trespassing and vandalism (in the form of spray-painted slogans). They correctly pointed out that Icelandic law ensures that people have the right to express themselves peaceably, and that chaining yourself to a work truck is hardly grounds for deportation.
Of course, it’s hard to take their rhetoric seriously when they don’t even have the far-sightedness to put aside their differences with their supposed allies to prevent the very ideas they oppose from gaining the upper hand.
If the Leftist-Greens want to keep the Independence Party from taking City Council, the best thing they can do is return to R-listinn. They can still iron out their differences after the municipal elections. Maybe it’s time for some prioritizing. They might disagree with their allies, but what practical good does it do their cause to divide the power that has been able to keep worst-case scenarios from becoming a reality?
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