Support for the two leading candidates for president of Iceland – incumbent Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and his opponent, Þóra Arnórsdóttir – seems very sharply divided between right-wing and left-wing voters. A professor of political science says it was Ólafur who made the race this way, by making the EU question the central issue.
At the heart of it, Ólafur has said that the president needs to sometimes disagree with the government, as he has done in the past over a 2004 media bill and more recently with Icesave. But he has also made references to the European Union lately – with which the country is in accession talks – and has in the past expressed his doubts to the foreign media about the benefits of joining. Þóra, her for part, has said the role of the president is in part to support the government.
With the debate framed in this way, the results of the latest Capacent poll are perhaps unsurprising. Ólafur has the most support from conservatives and Progressives (67% and 77% respectively) – both parties strongly oppose joining the EU. At the same time, 85% of Social Democrats and 65% of Leftist-Greens support Þóra – Social Democrats have long supported joining the EU, and while the Leftist-Greens have traditionally been against accession, they are in the ruling coalition with the Social Democrats.
Grétar Eyþórsson, a professor of political science at the University of Akureyri, believes that this sharply divided left-right support can be attributed to Ólafur making the EU question central to the presidential race. “He removed any doubts that he was an opponent of joining the EU, and he appears to have succeeded in turning this presidential election into some kind of EU election,” he said.
Ólafur’s support from conservatives is also ironic, given that his political life began with Alþýðubandalagið, the People’s Alliance; a left-wing party in which he was a high-ranking member from the 70s until 1995. The following year he ran for president, and won.
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