Icelandic PM’s future in doubt despite winning election majority

The Icelandic prime minister’s left-right coalition government is poised to win a clear majority in the country’s general election, despite Katrín Jakobsdóttir herself losing ground in the vote.

The coalition has brought Iceland four years of stability after a decade of political crises, but Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement emerged weakened from the election, losing ground to its rightwing partners, which both posted strong showings.

In projections based on more than 75% of votes counted, the Left-Green Movement, the conservative Independence party and the centre-right Progressive party together won 37 of the 63 seats in parliament, up from the 33 they held previously.

The Left-Green Movement took eight seats, three fewer than in 2017, casting doubt on Jakobsdóttir’s future as prime minister.

The largest party looked set to remain the Independence party, whose leader, Bjarni Benediktsson – the current finance minister and a former prime minister – is eyeing Jakobsdóttir’s job.

It won almost a quarter of votes and held on to its 16 seats. But the election’s big winner appeared to be the centre-right Progressive party, which gained five seats, giving it 13.

Ahead of the election, the coalition vowed to hold talks about its future together if it managed to hold on to its majority.

“We will have to see how the governmental parties are doing together and how we are doing,” Jakobsdóttir told AFP on Saturday as the first votes were counted.

Eva Önnudóttir, a political scientist at the University of Iceland, told AFP there was “a possibility” the tripartite government would decide to carry on together. She said the fact that the climate crisis was one of voters’ top concerns could work in Jakobsdóttir’s favour.

Deep public distrust of politicians amid repeated scandals sent Icelanders to the polls five times from 2007 to 2017. This is only the second time since 2008 that a government has made it to the end of its four-year mandate and the first time since 2003 that a government has retained its majority.

During her four-year term, Jakobsdóttir has introduced a progressive income tax system, increased the social housing budget and extended parental leave for both parents. Broadly popular, she has also been hailed for her handling of the Covid-19 crisis. The country, with a population of 370,000, has recorded 33 deaths.

Jakobsdóttir said on Saturday that if returned to power, her party would focus on the “huge challenges we face to build the economy in a more green and sustainable way”, as well addressing the climate crisis, where “we need to do radical things”.

Female MPs were on course have a majority in parliament after taking 32 of the 63 seats, in what would be a first in the country, long known as a champion of gender equality.


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