Swinging to the Middle: The Coalition That Could Be - The Reykjavik Grapevine

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Swinging to the Middle: The Coalition That Could Be

Swinging to the Middle: The Coalition That Could Be


Published April 8, 2005

One of the best things about living here, for me, is the parliament. I’m used to having to deal with an either/or situation when it comes to government, which doesn’t give you much variety or representation. I like the idea of the parliament: X-number of votes equals Z-number of seats, and any person with a logo and a mimeograph machine can start a political party that could, surprisingly easily, actually get a seat in parliament. What’s not to love?

But what I especially love are the fluid dynamics of the coalition – increasing your power by aligning your party with others. Typically, you see parties on the left and the right keeping to themselves, with a murky centrist element being courted from both ends and providing tie-breaking votes when necessary. In Iceland, according to the results of a Gallup poll released last weekend, the ruling coalition – the Independence party and the Progressive party, both conservative – hold a razor-thin majority of about 51%. The opposition – the Leftist-Greens and the centrist Social Democrats – have about 44%. As you might imagine, the result is that while there is at times fierce opposition to conservative measures, they usually pass narrowly. But all that might be about to change. Iceland could be taking a swing – into the dead centre.

Mind you, it’s not very likely that such a shift would occur. But these numbers – not to mention tensions between Progressives and Independence party members – set up an ideal situation for a power shift.
The recent Iraq matter might have marked the beginning of just such a shift in the making. Many Progressives (including Jónína Bjartmarz, Siv Friðleifsdóttir and even Minister of Agriculture Guðni Ágústsson – who is also vice-chairman of the Progressive Party – to name a few) have been critical not just of Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson, another Progressive, but with the Independence Party as a whole in regards to Iraq. Progressive MP Kristinn H. Gunnarsson told Ísland í bítið last February that the reason for voter dissatisfaction among Progressives was that either party members have grown tired of their long relationship with the ruling Independence party, or they’ve grown tired with how long the Independence Party has been in power.
The stance that Gunnarsson and other Progressives took on the Iraq matter certainly endeared them to a number of Leftist-Greens and Social Democrats. More recently, the three parties aligned on relaxing immigration laws, going counter to Independence party members. Social Democratic MP and member of the parliamentary general committee Guðrún Ögmundsdóttir told Grapevine just a few days ago, when asked if a tripartite coalition made of Progressives, Social Democrats and Leftist-Greens were possible, “It could be. We’re sticking well together, we’ve made the opposition strong. We´re a good working team.”

Again, it’s not very likely that the Progressives would reach out to the opposition, but it’s not out of the question. And if they did, it would benefit not just the country, but the Progressives themselves.

Such a tripartite coalition would create a vastly more centrist government. The Social Democrats are currently at 29%, with the Leftist-Greens at 15% and the Progressives at 12%. Even if the Independence party joined forces with the ineffectual Liberals, that opposition coalition would only hold about 44% of parliament, giving the tripartite coalition a strong lead of 12% – far greater than the 1% lead the Independence-Progressive coalition currently holds onto by the skin of their teeth. A ruling tripartite coalition would be about half centrist, one quarter right wing and one quarter left wing, so naturally most legislation would gravitate towards the centre, with occasional shifts to the right when crossover Progressives voted with a conservative opposition.
The benefits of a tripartite coalition for the Social Democrats are obvious. But it would also benefit the Progressives to help form this coalition. Apart from being in a coalition with a stronger lead in parliament, voter support for all three parties would probably increase dramatically, as such a coalition would appeal to a far wider scope of the Icelandic population. And rising support is something all three parties need badly – support for the Social Democrats has dropped by two points since the last elections, support for the Leftist-Greens remains unchanged, and although the Progressives saw a recent modest rise of two points in the past month, this is also up from being the least popular party a little over a month ago. In addition, such a coalition would put the Progressives in a powerful tie-breaking position – when legislation divides the right and left, the dividing line would be running more or less straight through the Progressive party, giving them more influence over legislation.

The possibility of a ruling tripartite coalition of Progressives, Social Democrats and Leftist-Greens has never been better. It would probably be seen by many Icelanders as a welcome change from a government which has been controlled by the Independence party since, well, pretty much forever.

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