From Iceland — Iceland's Political Parties: Who Are These People?

Iceland’s Political Parties: Who Are These People?

Published February 23, 2021

Photo by
Art Bicnick

As we regularly report on polls reflecting voter support for Iceland’s political parties, and as elections are coming up this autumn, we at the Grapevine thought it might be a good idea to provide those following from abroad—and especially those living in Iceland who are unfamiliar with these parties—a handy overview of who the parties are.

The following is based on their stated platforms, voting records, analysis of their activities over the years, and our own particular takes on these parties. None of this should be considered an endorsement of any one party.

Overview

The Republic of Iceland has a parliamentary system of 63 seats. As multiple parties run each year, it is nearly impossible for any one party to win a majority, and so coalitions are formed. The current ruling coalition is led by the Left-Greens with the support of the Independence Party and the Progressive Party. The ruling coalition gets to decide who the ministers are and who chairs the standing committees. They also have greater success in passing legislation. Opposition parties also occupy committees, and also serve the important functions of providing criticism of ruling coalition policy, introducing parliamentary proposals, and occasionally getting to pass legislation. Once bills are passed, they require the signature of the President to become law.

Only Icelandic citizens can vote in parliamentary elections. Foreign nationals from outside Scandinavia who have had more than five consecutive years of legal residence in Iceland, and Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish nationals who have had more than three consecutive years of legal residence in Iceland, may vote in municipal elections. More information on that can be found here.

This overview does not include every single registered political party in Iceland, but rather only the ones currently polling high enough to possibly win seats in Parliament. We highly encourage you to read their individual platforms, whether already available in English or through punching their platforms into Google Translate.

The Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn)

Founded: 1929
Affiliation: Centre-right to right wing
Chairperson: Bjarni Benediktsson
Official site: xd.is
Current number of seats in Parliament: 16
Platform in English?: Yes
Overview: Iceland’s own Grand Old Party. They consistently poll the highest, although never high enough to lead by themselves, are almost always a part of the ruling coalition. They tend towards classical liberalism (the European kind; not the American kind), are skeptical of joining the EU, and tend to favour privatisation. They are generally regarded as pro-business. They have had their share of scandals, ranging from the relatively minor to the more serious.

The Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn, or just Framsókn)

Founded: 1916
Affiliation: Centre to centre-right
Chairperson: Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson
Official site: framsokn.is
Current number of seats in Parliament: 8
Platform in English?: Not yet
Overview: The oldest existing party in Iceland. Historically known as “the farmer’s party”, and have traditionally focused on agrarian and rural issues. They tend towards supporting a mixture of public and private solutions, with an emphasis on the private, and are also EU-skeptical. Their support is strongest in the Icelandic countryside, where their roots go back over 100 years. After the financial crash of 2008, they went more populist, which led to a split in the party (see below). They have also had their share of scandals, most recently in the Panama Papers scandal—do note that the key player in that scandal is no longer in the Progressives.

The Left-Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð, or just Vinstri græn)

Founded: 1999
Affiliation: Centre-left to left wing
Chairperson: Katrín Jakobsdóttir
Official site: vg.is
Current number of seats in Parliament: 9
Platform in English?: Yes
Overview: Formed when the People’s Alliance (Alþýðubandalagið) split up, they have until recently always been an opposition party with a strong emphasis on environmental issues and women’s rights. They are also EU skeptical, albeit for very different reasons than their right wing colleagues. Their support tends to be strongest in the Reykjavík area, with some traditional support in the northeast, from where their first chairperson, Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, hails. The biggest scandal concerning this party has been their partnership with their long-time opponents, the Independence Party, despite repeated assurances from key players in the party before the 2017 election that partnership with the Independence Party was out of the question. In fairness, chairperson and current Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir repeatedly said they were not ruling anyone out. Eventually, this led to two of their MPs—Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir and Andrés Ingi Jónsson—leaving the party. They have since joined up with the Social Democrats and the Pirates, respectively.

The Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin – jafnaðarmannaflokkur Íslands, or just Samfylkingin)

Founded: 2000
Affiliation: Centre-left
Chairperson: Logi Már Einarsson
Official site: xs.is
Current number of seats in Parliament: 8
Platform in English?: Not yet
Overview: Also formed in the wake of the dissolution of the People’s Alliance. As the name suggests, they are a social democratic party, with all that entails. They tend towards support of the social welfare system over privatisation solutions, albeit not unequivocally. Their support is greatest in the capital area, especially in Hafnarfjörður, where the party has had the strongest presence, and in Reykjavík, where they currently lead the city council majority. The biggest scandal involving this party was their being a part of the coalition government, with the Independence Party, during the financial collapse of 2008. In the wake of the emergency elections that followed, they led the next government, with the Left-Greens and the support of the Progressive Party.

The Pirate Party of Iceland (Píratar)

Founded: 2012
Affiliation: Disavows right-left affiliation
Chairperson: Smári McCarthy
Official site: piratar.is
Current number of seats in Parliament: 6
Platform in English?: Not yet
Overview: If you’re familiar with Pirate parties in other European countries, then you’re likely familiar with this group as well. They place a strong emphasis on transparency, direct democracy, and personal freedoms. As such, they tend to be a broad umbrella of libertarian-minded folks who eschew calling themselves left wing or right wing. They have been active as an opposition party, calling for greater transparency and decreased corruption within the government. They have not been directly involved in any major scandals, and strongly support constitutional reform.

The Centre Party (Miðflokkurinn)

Founded: 2017
Affiliation: Centrist populist
Chairperson: Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson
Official site: midflokkurinn.is
Current number of seats in Parliament: 9
Platform in English?: Yes
Overview: Currently the largest opposition party in Parliament. They are decidedly populist, EU-skeptical, and have by far been the most vocal in regards to immigration—and by that we mean they are suspicious of immigrants at best, especially asylum seekers, although they would say they support “foreigners integrating into Icelandic society”. The party itself was formed in the wake of scandal, when then-Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson resigned after his involvement in the Panama Papers came to light and he subsequently left the Progressive Party, only to form the Centre Party mere weeks before the 2017 elections. Barely over a year later, some MPs for that party were involved directly in the Klausturgate scandal.

The Reform Party (Viðreisn)

Founded: 2016
Affiliation: Centre-right
Chairperson: Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir
Official site: vidreisn.is
Current number of seats in Parliament: 4
Platform in English?: Not yet
Overview: Often called “pro-EU Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn”, this is perhaps an oversimplification (although Þorgerður Katrín and others in her party were members of the Independence Party at some point). They tend to favour a mixture of social democracy and privatisation, with an emphasis on the latter, and are believers in “ethical capitalism”. Their support is strongest in the greater Reykjavík area. They have not been involved in any major scandals.

The People’s Party (Flokkur fólksins)

Founded: 2016
Affiliation: Mixed. Could be described as centre-left on disabled and poverty issues, but right wing on pretty much everything else.
Chairperson: Inga Sæland
Official site: flokkurfolksins.is
Current number of seats in Parliament: 2
Platform in English?: Not yet
Overview: This party places a strong emphasis on improving the rights of the disabled and the poor in Iceland. However, they are very anti-EU and anti-immigration, and include in their ranks Magnús Þór Hafsteinsson, a former MP for the now-defunct Liberal Party, and himself an outspoken critic of immigrants in Iceland and Muslims in general. They have the distinction of being both participants in and victims of the Klausturgate scandal, as two of them—Karl Gauti Hjaltason and Ólafur Ísleifsson—were MPs for the party at the time, while one of the topics of conversation in that scandal was some abusive language about Inga Sæland. Karl Gauti and Ólafur would later leave the party for the Centre Party.

The Icelandic Socialist Party (Sósíalistaflokkur Íslands, or just Sósíalistaflokkurinn)

Founded: 2017
Affiliation: Socialism
Chairperson: Gunnar Smári Egilsson
Official site: sosialistaflokkurinn.is
Current number of seats in Parliament: None
Platform in English?: Yes
Overview: While this party does not have a seat in Parliament, they have been included on this list as they are the only party not yet in Parliament polling high enough to potentially win a seat, and they also have a seat on Reykjavík City Council, held by Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir. While they do not expressly state what tendency of socialism they ascribe to, their platform tends heavily towards democratic socialism. Their support is strongest in the greater Reykjavík area, and have not been involved in any major scandals. While the party has yet to hold their primaries, all indications point to them going for a parliamentary run this autumn.

Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.

You can also check out our shop, loaded with books, apparel and other cool merch, that you can buy and have delivered right to your door.

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!