Ástþór Magnússon is mounting his third campaign for President now. He first appeared in 1996 when he ran and secured 2.8% of the vote. In 2000 he ran again but failed to secure the 1,500 nominations necessary to mount a legitimate campaign, although he is adamant that the counting of the names was rigged. He has had a successful career as a businessman and runs on a platform for world peace. He feels that he has, in the past, been given a rough ride by the media.
“It is strange how Icelanders talk about democracy and yet when it comes to presidential elections, for this important office there is a tradition to rubbish and discredit any one who runs against the incumbent.”
On his views for the president’s abilty to pass a bill for referendum, he is clear. “I am in favour of the ability to call a referendum but I believe that is has been misused in this case. Firstly, Ólafur Ragnar is undoubtedly connected to Nordurljós. He will say that the group did not exist at that time but the companies and people who supported him certainly did. Secondly, what he has done may be good for his short term popularity but will ultimately undermine the office of the President. There is even discussion that the role would be abolished completely.”
Grapevine asked him whether he felt this was a satisfactory election. ”We should have more candidates. Beween 3 and 5 is healthy number and easy to handle in the media. I have for weeks been campaiging for the elections to be held in a democratic way.”
And then asked how he would approach his first days in office. “I would use my time to have the Althing debate and agree once and for all how this veto can and should be used. I would work with the government of the day. You don’t have to change the consititution but you can put a legal framework around how it is used and any President with sense will follow them. So then certain issues would go to referendum. This would be healthier because it would mean that governments can only go so far without having to go back to the people in a referendum. It would avoid the kind of havoc we are experiencing now.”
So what is the role of the President?
“The president should be a unifier for the country and also a unifier for world peace. This can be done without being at war with the government and would be positive for the people of Iceland. This is the key to my campaign. I use the illustration of Vigdís and women’s rights. I would put world peace at the top of our agenda. 90% of Icelanders were against the war; where are they now when they have a peace candidate?” Ástþór is no stranger to controversy, when he pointed out that when Iceland joined the Coalition of the Willing, creating the possibility that Icelandic passenger airplanes would be a legitimate target for Al Qa’eda, he was arrested. “I am the only Icelander to have gone to prison for my beliefs about the war in Iraq,” he points out.