Published October 10, 2016
The pessimist’s guide to Icelandic politics
One can’t help but envy the two-party systems of the US and (more or less) UK while watching the televised debates leading up to next month’s parliamentary. We Icelanders value our democracy so intensely that we’ll let anyone join in on the fun without much hindrance; we now have twelve parties in the running, which is fewer than we had three years ago but still means that practically every fifteenth adult you meet is running for office. You’re probably wondering “Who are all those people?” and even if you’re not I’m still going to tell you.
Let’s go through them beginning with the usual suspects—or I guess you could call them culprits by now. They’re the parties currently represented in Alþingi.
“Source of mild amusement”
The party at the helm right now is called the Progressive Party, a misnomer that’s been the source of mild amusement for so long that the name has lost all meaning. Put bluntly, the Progressive Party is anything but progressive. Founded and funded by farmers and their mafia-like organizations, its members are moderately skeptical of immigrants (especially Muslims), love Icelandic milk and hot dogs, and are known to make outrageous election promises, like actually handing out government money to people of their choosing just because they can. Until very recently the Progressives were led by our ex-Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who lost the PM reigns to his second-in-command, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson after he got caught up in the Panama Papers scandal in April, which, again, is why the term was cut short and we’re voting this fall instead of next spring. Oh, and then Sigurður Ingi stabbed him in the back to become party leader and it’s all been good fun.
“High-income male lawyers”
The Progressives form their coalition with the Independence Party, Iceland’s right-wing mainstay and the country’s largest party for most of the past century. That might be changing, though, and they have no idea how to deal with it. As always come election time, this group of middle-aged, high-income male lawyers are now trying their hardest to put up a Scandinavian, social-democratic we-care-about-the-minnows guise, talking about the public healthcare and social security they otherwise pay no mind, but it’s the easiest lie to see through. Everyone knows that once in power they’ll just cut levies on the wealthy and the fisheries.
“Middle-aged middle-class twats”
On the other side of the spectrum we find the Left-Greens, led by Iceland’s most popular politician by a mile, Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Young hipsters like them because they’re feminist socialists, but young hipsters also hate them because they don’t want to sell alcohol in supermarkets. The middle-aged middle-class twats like them because they’re conservative as fuck but the middle-aged middle-class twats also hate them because they want to take all their money and give it to farmers and artists. Can’t win ’em all. At least people semi-know what they stand for.
“The saddest sob story”
Just to the right of them are the Social Democrats, the saddest sob story of them all. Who knows what they’re about anymore. A former powerhouse that was Iceland’s largest party as recently as 2009, they now barely register in polls. They lost all relevance once EU membership, their only differentiator on the left wing, wasn’t a hot topic anymore. Essentially, they want to do the same things as the urban arm of the Left-Greens, only halfheartedly. Surprisingly, that doesn’t seem to appeal much to… well, anyone. Let’s pour one out for the homies, but there’s no reason to dwell on them.
“A lot less fun”
We shouldn’t forget Bright Future. Led by charismatic, offbeat metal rocker Óttarr Proppé, this liberal, artsy left-leaning troop is a mutation of comedian and ex-mayor Jón Gnarr’s Best Party, only a lot less fun. They want to make politics more friendly—change the culture—and even though they did score some arguably populistic points with the general public for symbolically voting “no” on a highly controversial eight-year agricultural agreement Alþingi passed recently, their biggest win this term is probably that everyone seems to have forgotten how spine-tinglingly lame the name “Bright Future” is. Seriously though, that’s about all they’ve done.
“Wear gimmicky T-shirts”
And then there arrrr (get it?) the Pirates. They’re huge nerds, they want to abolish copyright laws, grant Edward Snowden asylum in Iceland—you know the drill—and they’ve been the high-flyers in polls since forever. They might be losing momentum and probably won’t end up as Iceland’s largest political party. Fronted by the man behind the Icelandic Wikipedia and Birgitta Jónsdóttir of Wikileaks fame, they emphasize their “radicalism” and plans for “revolutionary systemic capsizing” and all that jazz almost to a scary point, while the most radical thing they’ve done to date is wear gimmicky T-shirts to Parliament.
The only newcomers of note are Viðreisn, which roughly translates as the Restoration Party, but in Icelandic sounds more like erectile dysfunction medication. Largely a band of disgruntled, EU sympathetic ex-members (and ex-leaders) of the Independence Party, they want systemic change and to do away with the endemic nepotism of Icelandic politics and government. Ironically, the party leader is a close relative of Bjarni Benediktsson, the leader of the Independence Party, and at a glance it’s tough to see how the two parties differ, EU stance aside. But even though our halted EU application process is the least of anyone’s worries right now, the members of Viðreisn still argue that they have more in common with the parties to the left of them (the Pirates, Bright Future, Social Democrats), than the two parties in power. If they continue to rise in polls, they might be in position to put their money where their mouths are come November.
The rest of the parties are a mixed bag of degenerate racists, scattered power-to-the-people proponents still trying to ride the post-financial crisis wave and one, admittedly, pretty awesome old-school communist who we should probably all vote for even though none of us will.
Oh god, I hope I’m not forgetting anyone…