From Iceland — Elections '17: Who Are Iceland's Political Parties & Who Will Lead Next?

Elections ’17: Who Are Iceland’s Political Parties & Who Will Lead Next?

Published October 30, 2017

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

As the results of the elections last Saturday reflect, there is no clear majority for a traditional two-party coalition. This leaves open the question of what coalitions may form, and who might lead them. But first, let’s meet the parties who won seats, in order of most to least seats won:

The Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn): A conservative party, chaired by Bjarni Benediktsson. Not only one of the oldest parties in the country, they are also a mainstay of Icelandic politics, with a steady base of anywhere from 20-25% of the electorate. This party also led the previous coalition, which was comprised of them, Bright Future (who won no seats, and are vanished from Parliament) and the Reform Party. Recent scandals surrounding Bjarni certainly had their impact, costing the party five of their seats, but they still came out winning the most seats of any other party.
Had: 21 seats
Has: 16 seats

The Left-Greens (Vinstri Græn): As the name suggests, they are a left wing party with an emphasis on environmentalism. They were founded in 1999, during a time when the Icelandic left was attempting to consolidate its forces, and are chaired by Katrín Jakobsdóttir. While their polling soared in the weeks after the dissolution of the government, they began to tumble in the days leading up to the election. Ultimately, they did not fare as well as predicted, reminiscent of the Pirate Party’s high polling in the run-up to the 2016 elections.
Had: 10 seats
Has: 11 seats

The Progressive Party (Framsókn): A centre-right party, and the oldest Icelandic party still in existence, chaired by Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson. They traditionally have a stronger base of support in the countryside, in particular amongst farmers, than they do in the Reykjavík area. They have also often partnered with the Independence Party, as they share similar platform positions. This party was once chaired by former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, whose disgrace in the wake of the Panama Papers leak would unseat him from the office, and from the party chair.
Had: 8 seats
Has: 8 seats

The Social Democrats (Samfylkingin): This was the other left party formed in 1999, chaired by Logi Már Einarsson. While they are closer to the centre than the Left-Greens, they are also the only consistently pro-accession party when it comes to the European Union. They have partnered with both the Independence Party and the Left-Greens in ruling coalitions on separate occasions. Their support rose considerably in the run-up to the elections.
Had: 3 seats
Has: 7 seats

The Centre Party (Miðflokkurinn): A centre-right party formed and chaired by Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson about three weeks before the election, their party platform is not even completely finished, but is thus far nearly identical to the Progressives. Sigmundur had announced his departure from the party he used to lead last month, and a few prominent Progressives followed him. His seven-seat win in the elections is reminiscent of the Reform Party, who also went from zero to seven seats in 2016, albeit with a much longer headstart than the Centre Party.
Had: 0 seats
Has: 7 seats

The Pirate Party (Píratar): Founded in 2012, the Pirates do not like to ascribe themselves to the left or the right, as they consider these positions antiquated. They have no chair, preferring to share power equally, but certain MPs will take the position of “captain”, which is a combination leadership/spokesperson role. Their platform emphasises direct democracy, transparency, and the right to privacy, and are staunch supporters of passing the draft for a new constitution – a point of contention with more conservative parties. Their support steadily declined between the end of the last government and the elections, losing 4 seats in the process.
Had: 10 seats
Has: 6 seats

The People’s Party (Flokkur fólksins): Founded last year and chaired by former X-Factor contestant Inga Sæland, they are a socialist party with emphasis on increasing aid for the poor, the elderly and the disabled. At the same time, they have a nebulous stance on immigration; Inga has made critical and often inaccurate statements about asylum seekers in the past, and one of their top candidates was Magnús Þór Hafsteinsson, whose isolationist stance on immigration is well-known to the Icelandic public. This party was polling right on the line between getting in and being shut out of parliament right up until the elections, but managed to get four seats.
Had: 0 seats
Has: 4 seats

The Reform Party (Viðreisn): Founded last year and chaired by publisher and businessman Benedikt Jóhannesson, they are a centre-right party. They have much in common with the Independence Party, with the notable exception of being pro-EU. They supported the previous ruling coalition after winning seven seats in the 2016 elections, but their association with the Independence Party may have hurt them, as their seats were nearly cut in half this time around.
Had: 7 seats
Has: 4 seats

So what will our next government be?

Iceland’s parliament has 63 seats. As such, there are no two-party coalitions possible this time around, and Icelanders (up until last year) typically tolerate no more than two parties in any non-emergency coalition. The only three-party coalitions possible right now would be the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Social Democrats, or the Independence Party, the Progressives, and either the Centre Party or the Social Democrats. However, these formations would be fraught with peril:

The Independence Party and the Left-Greens have almost nothing in common in terms of platforms, which would put the weight on the Social Democrats – who have experience partnering with both of them, on separate occasions – to try and bridge the gap. Further, the Progressives and the Centre Party are not on great terms; Sigmundur left the Progressives, renouncing the party to start his own. How the Social Democrats would get on with the Progressives is a whole other matter, and it is highly unlikely the Left-Greens would participate in a government that included both the Independence Party and the Progressives.

In the Icelandic system, the President gives the mandate to the party they believe stands the best chance of leading the next government. This mandate is typically given to the largest party after the elections. However, this year there are special circumstances. The Independence Party may be the largest, but they also took the greatest losses, on top of the fact that the party’s own scandals led to the downfall of the previous government. President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson will be meeting with all the party chairs throughout the day today to discuss matters. And we certainly don’t envy the decision he has to make.

In the event that the aforementioned three-party coalitions cannot come together, this leaves us with the option of a minority government. Naturally, the parties involved would have an easier chance forming such a government if they are close to one another on the left-right spectrum, but any minority government configuration would have to encompass both the left and the right. This raises a few possibilities:

The Left-Greens, The Social Democrats, The Pirates, The People’s Party and the Reform Party: The last of these is right of centre, but their pro-EU stance may make them more appealing to the Social Democrats, who have already demonstrated the flexibility to work with more conservative parties. The People’s Party’s emphasis on boosting the social welfare system would appeal to the left core within this configuration. However, this configuration is highly unstable, as it contains five parties, and is only 32 seats – a majority of one, the same as the last government.

The Left-Greens, The Social Democrats, The Pirates, and the Progressive Party: More stable, in that it’s only four parties, but there is considerable bad blood between the Progressives and left, the Left-Greens especially. “I never voted Progressive” was, at one time, a popular slogan of the Left-Greens. However, the Progressives have been singing a more social welfare-minded tune lately. This configuration is also a majority of one.

The Independence Party, the Progressive Party, the Reform Party and the People’s Party: The Centre Party would seem a better choice than the People’s Party for this minority coalition, but Sigmundur left the Progressives on not-the-best-of terms. This configuration is another majority of one.

The Independence Party, the Progressive Party, the Centre Party and the Reform Party: The Independence Party has led government with the Progressives and the Reform Party on separate occasions, so they would have little difficulty forming a joint platform. Some serious fences would still need to be mended between Sigmundur Davíð and the Progressives, and while highly unlikely, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. It also has the strongest majority of all the possible minority governments: 35 seats.

The days and weeks to come will likely have many different meetings between different parties. If last year is any indication, there may be several coalition talks, with the President giving the mandate to different parties. The only certainty about our next government is that it will be contentious, and possibly fragile.

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