Earlier this month, the good people of Reykjavík got to witness the swearing in of their fourth Mayor in just two years. While they generally don’t agree on why exactly this is happening, people do agree that this isn’t good. To give you readers a little insight into how the public has viewed these events, and maybe even explain what has been going on, the Grapevine drafted two different citizens, a loudmouth rapper and a political scientist, to tell the story of the last two years, in their own words and understanding.
The situation be traced to the city council elections of 2006. The two dominant political parties, Samfylkingin (“Social Democrat Coalition”) and Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (“Independence party”) both had a weak following in the election, so in the end there were five parties that managed to get in representatives,with Vinstri Grænir (“Left-Greens”), Frjálslyndi Flokkurinn (“Liberal Party”), Framsóknarflokkurinn (“Progressive Party”) all also voted in.
Using some rather Machiavellian tactics, Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn managed to form a ruling coalition with Framsóknarflokkurinn, after sidetracking [“Liberal Party” representative] Ólafur F. Magnússon, essentially distracting him from entering one with others. Early on in the coalition it was clear that Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn felt they were getting the short end of the stick, both in terms of policy forming and seats on various committees. It also became apparent early on that Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn was divided on some key issues, and that [then-mayor and party leader] Vilhjálmur Þ. Vilhjálmsson stood on weak grounds with the members of his own party.
The ruling parties then started to publicly quarrel about the Reykjavík Energy Invest fund, which culminated in a breach of trust between the Mayor and Framsóknarflokkurinn’s representative, then-City council president Björn Ingi Hrafnsson. He broke the majority coalition and formed a new one with the opposition parties.
The new coalition was nicknamed Tjarnarkvartettinn, and was generally well received in Reykjavík. Their Mayor, Dagur B. Eggertsson, was popular with the public, especially since Vilhjálmsson had been controversial during his reign.
However, Tjarnarkvartettinn only survived for a hundred days. Behind the scenes, Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn made Frjálslyndi Flokkurinn’s representative Ólafur F. Magnússon a great offer, promising that all of his policy matters will be put in the forefront of a new ruling coalition between the two, something he felt he felt wasn’t the case with Tjarnarkvartettinn, and that they would appoint him mayor. He opted to break the current quartet coalition and form a new one with Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn.
This of course came as a surprise to the other parties, who claimed that Magnússon hadn’t been vocal about his dissatisfaction. For a second time, Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn sold themselves short to get into office; they basically vowed to enforce most of Magnússon’s pre-election agenda, and to make him Mayor.
The methods Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn used to form that new majority caused a stir in Reykjavík. Icelandic voters rarely flock to City Hall to protest, but they did so when the new coalition was sworn in.
That new coalition then broke recently, and I believe there are three main reasons for that. Firstly it seems near impossible to work with Ólafur F. Magnússon, as he seems rigid and stubborn in his ways. Secondly, Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn was in the end not willing to implement Magnússon’s manifesto. Thirdly, the governance of that majority was total chaos, city council decided something, the Mayor went directly against it, etc. It wasn’t working, and this is why Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn ultimately broke their coalition with Magnússon and the Liberal party.
Thus we are once again being governed by a coalition of Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn and Framsóknarflokkurinn, which maybe goes to show what a hasty move Framsóknarflokkurinn made in breaking their coalition the first time around. se, this has been one hell of a Machiavellian disaster, one that’s especially fun for political enthusiasts to witness, even though it is very damaging.
We’ve gone through four city governments in two years, right? It’s been four. This is starting to feel like Italian politics. Wait. Yeah, this is the fourth majority coalition, first there was Framsókn and Sjálfstæðisflokkur, then we had Tjarnarkvartettinn, then Sjálfstæðisflokkur and Frjálslyndir and now Sjálfstæðisflokkur and Framsókn again. The problem I think is that our politicians value power over ideals. You could say that Ólafur F. Magnússon has achieved a lot of his political agenda and ideals, especially since he is essentially a one-man party. There are others, like Óskar Bergsson [Framsóknarflokkurinn’s current representative] that I think are in it just to get a comfortable job. You know. That place, City Hall, its basically just clown college.
There has been a satanic circus going on here, it’s like some strange form of stand-up comedy and we’re still waiting for a punch line that never comes. And it’s slowly stopped being funny, somebody better bring an intensely clever punch line soon for this to make sense, because this is the biggest load of bullshit that the people of Reykjavík have experienced.
What happened is that Samfylkingin decided to break up the R-listi coalition [of Samfylkingin, Vinstri grænir and Framsóknarflokkurinn the governed the city from 1994-2006] by demanding more representatives in it beyond their popularity. They wanted to list Dagur B. Eggertsson as an independent, when everyone knew he was a card-carrying member of Samfylkingin. Vinstri grænir didn’t like this and the coalition decided not to run mutually as R-listinn in the 2006 elections.
What we’ve been experiencing since is basically the hangover from that decision, the left has been running amok instead of putting together a new R-coalition and that has given Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn the opportunity to grab the reigns. Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn is very adept at back-room deals and all sorts of conniving and trickery, that sort of bullshit. That clearly includes fooling the weakest link in the Tjarnarkvartett coalition into abandoning it, and that member is certainly Ólafur F. Magnússon, a man that doesn’t have any idea which political party he belongs to when he wakes up in the morning. Is he in Íslandshreyfingin [“Iceland movement”], Frjálslyndi Flokkurinn, Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn, an independent? He’s been everywhere, sort of like a political drag queen. Some might say, and rightfully so, that he has a strong political conviction, but I also say that he is a nut.
But Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn managed to lure the weakest link to jump ship and climb aboard with them. Now people are saying that that was just a plot to break the unity of the leftist parties, and I agree. Even though Magnússon isn’t a leftist, he has a strong social agenda. So they get him aboard that loony-ship that was their coalition and make him Mayor, with his miniscule following.
Of course Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn was bound to find an even weaker link, and of course it was Framsóknarflokkurinn’s candidate Óskar Bergsson who provided that service. Fact is no one wants Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn as a ruling party in the city, polls and votes have shown that consistently, time and time again. The left parties should just run as a single coalition, I know they have their differences in the parliament but at the level of city politics they speak the same language and want the same things. But Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn is such a power-party; they thrive on being in control and stop at nothing to get there. But coalitions formed through such methods don’t last, and this one won’t. That’s my analysis.