Saturday, December 4

Elections in Iceland: COVID, coalitions and … new talks on EU accession?

On Saturday (September 25), Icelanders will go to the polls to vote in the parliamentary elections.

There are numerous issues at stake for the small island nation, some of them perennial, but the coronavirus pandemic figures prominently.

Recent polls show that even a three-party coalition government can be difficult to form, at best, virtually unheard of for a country that, until recently, has almost always enjoyed bipartisan governments.

What’s at stake in Iceland’s general elections?

A poll by the daily Fréttablaðið, conducted between September 13-16, showed that more than 72% of respondents rated the healthcare system as their top priority in terms of how they will cast their votes this weekend.

Iceland has made international headlines for its robust and rapid response to the global pandemic, but it has also revealed long-standing problems within Iceland’s healthcare system. Among them are staff shortages, long waiting lists for critical care and low wages.

This has renewed the discussion about whether further privatization is needed, or whether it would make things worse, and that discussion falls more or less along ideological lines; Icelandic conservatives say they believe that giving people more options would alleviate public health stress somewhat, while those to the left of the center believe that allowing more privatizations will lead to further deterioration in the public sphere.

Employment and the economy are also very important to Icelandic voters, polls show. In a country as dependent on tourism as Iceland, the pandemic has particularly affected that industry. Voters yearn for solutions that will bring their lagging economy back to pre-pandemic levels, either through revitalization of the tourism industry or through further diversification.

The big players in tourism have often disagreed with pandemic restrictions, and the government has been in a difficult position trying to strike a balance between tourist money and public health.

Who are the runners and runners in the Icelandic general elections?

The Icelandic coalition is led by the Green-Left Movement, with party leader Katrín Jakobsdóttir as prime minister. The conservative Independence Party and the center-right Progressive Party are the other parties in government.

Throughout the summer, polls have shown that the popularity of the ruling coalition has been on a razor’s edge.

They certainly have a lot of work to do, as there are currently nine parties voting strong enough to win seats in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament.

The main opposition parties at the moment are the center-left Social Democrats and the Pirate Party, which deliberately avoids any right-to-left affiliation.

In addition, there are three other centrist parties that are strong enough to retain or even win seats: the Reform Party, the Popular Party, and the Center Party.

The real dark horse in this race is the Socialist Party. While they currently have a seat in the Reykjavík City Council, they do not yet have a seat in Parliament. Yet they have been diligently campaigning, and a Gallup poll, conducted between September 13 and 19, shows they are tall enough to win four or more seats.

What could make Iceland’s general election historic?

Given these current levels of party support, if the polls are reflected in this Saturday’s results, a bipartisan coalition, generally favored by Icelanders, will be impossible.

A three-party government might be possible, but only if the Social Democrats break their long-standing campaign promise to refuse to enter any coalition with the Independence Party, which is currently voting high enough to win 15 or so seats. twice as much as any other part.

As such, the next Icelandic government may be made up of four or even more parties.

In the Icelandic context, these coalitions have been routinely viewed as unstable and undesirable. It will take long and intense negotiations between all these parties to work out a joint platform, and even then, the final seal of approval from the President of Iceland will be required.

The next government will likely also determine whether Iceland’s draft for a new constitution, which has effectively been shelved for ten years, will receive final ratification.

While support for the new constitution, which was drafted in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, remains strong, it still faces concerted opposition from conservatives.

A return to the EU talks?

Iceland’s next government can also determine whether the country chooses to start accession talks with the European Union again. While the accession process began in 2009, with Iceland’s first left-wing government in the 21st century, those talks were abruptly interrupted in 2015 by then-Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson.

Opinion polls on whether or not Iceland should join the EU have been more or less divided ever since. However, the Social Democrats and the Reform Party are strongly in favor of membership, while others, such as the Pirate Party, want a national referendum on the issue, while the Independence Party and the Progressive Party remain strongly opposed. to Iceland’s accession to the European Union. Union.

As such, the next Icelandic government could very well determine whether Iceland remains outside the EU or starts talking again to join.

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