From Iceland — UPDATED: Bjarni Ben Becomes Prime Minister

UPDATED: Bjarni Ben Becomes Prime Minister

Published April 9, 2024

Photo by
Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

UPDATED 09.04.24, 14:25

The party leaders representing the ruling coalition government held a press conference at Harpa at 14:00, announcing agreed-upon changes to cabinet.

Left-Green Movement Chairperson Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Independence Party Chairperson Bjarni Benediktsson and Progressive Party Chairperson Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson confirmed that Bjarni Ben will become Prime Minister following his brief stint as Foreign Minister. Sigurður Ingi is moving from the Ministry of Infrastructure to the Ministry of Finance, becoming the first Progressive Party MP to manage that file since 1979. Guðmundur Ingi will continue on as Minister of Social Affairs and Labour.

Independence Party MP and now former finance minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir returns to her office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having previously swapped offices with Bjarni Ben. Left-Green MP Svandís Svavarsdóttir will become Minister of Infrastructure. Left-Green MP Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir will fill the gap left by Svandís at the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries.

The proposed changes will be formalised tonight when the new cabinet meets with President Guðni Th. Johannesson.

During the press conference, Bjarni Ben stated the importance of the current government’s continued efforts. He said that important issues need to be concluded in parliament, prioritising issues such as immigration, border control, energy and reducing inflation. “Such plans become nothing if people can’t reach a compromise. That is why we’ve used our time well to reach an agreement. We believe we are in a good position. Labour negotiations have recently finished. We are positive towards what is ahead,” Bjarni said. JB

Independence Party Chairperson and Minister of Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson is expected to be named prime minister once the dust from today’s cabinet negotiations have settled.

The government is in the midst of a shakeup following now former prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s announcement on April 5 that she was resigning to launch her presidential campaign.

The Independence Party convened a meeting Monday night to discuss the situation and approve Bjarni Ben’s proposal for future cooperation of the party’s coalition government with the Progressive Party and Left-Green Movement, RÚV reports. The details of the Independence Party’s proposal have not been made public. The parliamentary committees of the Progressives and Left-Greens convened this morning to discuss the renewal of coalition cooperation.

If all three coalition parties approve the cooperation proposal a state council meeting will be convened at Bessastaðir, the seat of the Icelandic presidents, for approval.

While details of the cooperation agreement are slim, it is largely believed that Bjarni Ben will become prime minister, Progressive Party Chairperson Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson would move from the Ministry of Infrastructure to take on the finance file, and Independence Party MP Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir would return to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after a short stint as finance minister.

An Unpopular Coalition

How long the coalition can stand is anyone’s guess at this point, but we’d bank on elections being called sooner than later. Currently, the parties in power — the Independence Party, Progressive Party and the Left-Green Movement — could not reach a majority in parliament if elections were held today, according to polling by Gallup conducted in early April. Combined, they would only amass 19 MPs of the 33 needed for a majority.

The Social Democratic Alliance, however, would  be heading for an electoral victory if elections were held today. The party currently polls at 30,9%, their highest figure since 2009.

Bjarni’s Independence Party has been polling at an historic low all year.

Not His First Rodeo

Reaction online to headlines that Bjarni Ben would take over for Katrín has been heated, with many shocked at the absurdity of it all. Bjarni last served as prime minister from January to November 2017. His government fell after it was reported that his father, Benedikt Sveinsson, vouched for the reputation of convicted child sex offender Hjalti Sigurjón Hauksson, writing a letter in support of his criminal record being erased.

The teflon-suited politician has been at the centre of so many political storms and scandals at this point that it’s hard to keep them all straight. His name famously showed up in the Panama Papers report on holders of offshore bank accounts and businesses. Bjarni also came under fire for shirking COVID-19 quarantine rules after popping into a pre-Christmas 2020 gathering at a local art gallery.

Then there’s Bjarni’s wildly mishandled and corrupt sale of the government’s shares in Íslandsbanki that largely benefitted private investors (including members of Bjarni’s family), accusations about insider trading after it was found that Bjarni sold off assets just hours before Iceland’s devastating 2008 financial collapse.

In fact, Bjarni resigned as finance minister in 2023 amid public uproar over the Íslandsbanki sale, only to reemerge as foreign minister almost immediately. Because that’s the state of politics in Iceland.

And who can forget IceHot1 and, more recently, Bjarni’s calculated orchestration of anti-Palestine and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

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