Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who was re-elected to a fifth term as president by a wide margin last Saturday – told reporters that the results show an “unambiguous message from the people” that they want increased democracy. A professor of political science contends Ólafur’s victory has not been as decisive as it seems.
As reported, Ólafur was re-elected with 51.5% of the ballots cast. His closest opponent, Þóra Arnórsdóttir, received 33.7%. This will mark his fifth term in office, which will finish with a total of 20 years as president.
A great deal of Ólafur’s popularity as a president can be attributed to his twice refusing to sign into law an agreement that would have led to Icelandic taxpayers paying for money owed from the failed online bank Icesave, referring the agreements to public referendum. Both were overwhelmingly rejected, and while Iceland will now be going to international court over the matter, the referendum was a politically popular move. Ólafur brought up his refusal to sign the Icesave agreements several times during his campaign.
In fact, more referendums seemed to be on this horizon. Speaking to RÚV, Ólafur said that he considers his re-election an “unambiguous message from the people” that they want to have a say in the largest issues facing the nation, in the form of national referendums. He said he believes the results also show that the people want the president to voice his opinion on important matters – a reference to his opinion that Iceland should not join the European Union, despite this being the official platform of the government.
While Ólafur’s margin of victory is nearly 20%, professor of political science Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson said that the victory is actually not as decisive as it seems.
Gunnar pointed out that first of all, this is only the third time in Icelandic history that an incumbent president has been challenged for his seat. Second of all, when Vigdís Finnbogadóttir ran for re-election in 1988 – challenged by Sigrún Þorsteinsdóttir – she came away with the votes of 67% of all registered voters. Ólafur, by contrast, won with only about 36% of votes from all registered voters. In both elections, voter turn-out was similar: 72.8% in 1988, and 69.2% this time around.
In lighter news, the Financial Times took an interesting interpretation of the election results, saying that Ólafur’s re-election was an indication that Icelandic voters were “looking for a safe pair of hands to guide the country through its tentative economic recovery and negotiations over entry into the European Union.”