From Iceland — Icesave Bill Hangs in the Balance

Icesave Bill Hangs in the Balance

Published December 9, 2009

Parliament yesterday voted to allow the Icesave bill to go back to the Finance Committee for more fine-tuning, making it one round away from either passage into law or failure. The difference between the two could rest upon as few as one MP, and the pressure on the government has never been greater.
Despite strong rhetoric from the opposition, the Icesave bill was voted 32 to 29 in favor of going back to the Finance Committee – two members of parliament were absent. Finance Committee chairman Guðbjartur Hannesson told Vísir that certain details that the opposition objects to will need closer examination. Conservative MP Kristján Þór Júlíusson told reporters he doubted the matter would be settled before Christmas.
Once the bill makes it out of committee, it returns to the floor of parliament for a third and final debate. But there are already doubts that the ruling coalition of the Social Democrats and Leftist-Greens will be able to get the bill passed into law with a strong majority, or possibly even at all.
For one, two Leftist-Green MPs – Ögmundur Jónasson and Lilja Mósesdóttir – voted against the bill in its current form. Also, a third Leftist-Green, Ásmundur Einar Daðason, told reporters that he has doubts about voting for the bill in the third debate, but hopes the bill’s final form will be satisfactory. Þráinn Bertelsson, an MP not associated with any party but in the opposition nonetheless, voted for the bill.
There are 63 seats in parliament in all; 34 of them seated by members of the ruling coalition. If the same two MPs who voted against it yesterday vote against it in the third debate, and if Daðason decides to vote against it (as he has hinted he might), the passage of the Icesave bill would fail by one vote – unless Bertelsson or one or more members of the opposition vote for it.
Speaking to reporters, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir said, “Things would of course go quite awry if the bill did not pass. But I will not say in advance that this government would collapse as a result. I would hope rather that it would live on because, I ask the people, what should happen if the coalition collapses?”
There are indications that Icelanders themselves are equally divided over the issue. A petition calling for the president to veto any Icesave bill, and a Facebook group urging parliament to pass it, are both gathering supporters at about the same rate.

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