Last Saturday, Birgir Þórarinsson, who was elected to Parliament during last month’s elections to represent the Centre Party, announced that he was leaving the party to join the Independence Party. The move was not well received by his now-former party members, but was warmly welcomed by Independence Party chair Bjarni Benediktsson—most likely as it increases that party’s seats from 16 to 17.
Birgir’s stated reasons for leaving refer to the Klausturgate scandal, which took place in 2018. He stated that he condemned his colleagues for their behaviour at the time, but held out hope that they had learned and grown from the experience, only to conclude that they had not.
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the chair of the Centre Party and now just one of the party’s two parliamentarians, told RÚV, “This is of course a betrayal of the party, and I am the chair, so one might say it’s also a betrayal of me personally.”
While Bjarni welcomed Birgir’s arrival, saying, “The Independence Party is a broad movement and we always welcome new people to the group,” Veronika Steinunn Magnúsdóttir, chair of the Young Conservatives in Reykjavík, pointed out that people who voted for the Independence Party naturally did not vote for Birgir. By the same token, Sigmundur Davíð apologised to Centre Party voters “that things turned out this way, as in reality maybe voters did not intend to use their ballots to support an MP for the Independence Party.”
It is not unusual for an MP of one party to move to another—both Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir and Andrés Ingi Jónsson departed from the Left-Greens to join the Social Democrats and the Pirate Party, respectively. However, it is highly unusual for an MP to jump parties so soon after election day. The uncommon nature of Birgir’s maneuver explains in large part why this has caused so much of a stir.
In Iceland’s parliamentary system, voters vote for a particular party rather than individual politicians. In choosing a party, voters in a given district vote for every candidate on that party’s list for their district. Voters can cross out select names on the candidate list of the party they are voting for, although there are rarely enough strike-throughs to influence the final outcome.
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