Some 1,500 gathered on Austurvöllur yesterday evening to voice their concerns about the state of the Icelandic economy. Inside parliament, party leaders attempted to deflect public anger away from their own parties.
Last night’s protests were peaceful, with people chanting, blowing whistles, banging on barrels and lighting road flares. The protesters represent a variety of different interests and perspectives, but most are unhappy with the state of the Icelandic economy, as well as the unchanged structure of the housing loan system.
Inside parliament, the protesters outside were the main topic of discussion. Each party leader addressed public anger, saying that it was fully understandable. However, they all attempted to attribute the focus of the anger away from their own parties and onto their political opponents.
Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir said that the ruling coalition’s point of view in parliamentary discussions is “held hostage” by the opposition. In this, she refers to the fact that the opposition in Icelandic parliament almost always clocks in far more hours behind the podium than the government. “This we have to change – for the sake of the people,” she said.
Minister of Finance Steingrímur J. Sigfússon acknowledged that “[public anger] is usually focused on the government” but added that he believes people are unhappy with parliament as a whole. He also said that the opposition has done right, for the most part, in being able to discuss the pros and cons of government proposals, instead of focusing solely on “the dark side.”
Independence Party chairman Bjarni Benediktsson took the point of view that the ruling coalition bears responsibility for the state of the economy right now, as they are the ones currently sitting in power. Progressive chairman Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson agreed with the sentiment. While both men acknowledged that the public may be angry at parliament as a whole, they believe public anger is directed for the largest part at the government.
Þór Saari, an MP for The Movement, believes public anger is focussed on every party in parliament except his own. This is because the ruling coalition and the two other parties in the opposition are a part of “the old four-party system” that Þór believes people have grown weary of. “I think the entire system is ruined, and we need to rinse everything out, and have new elections with entirely new people.”