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Social Democrats nearly wiped out in Iceland’s election

| Text: Guðrún Helga Sigurðardóttir

The Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) was the great looser in Iceland’s parliamentary elections, together with the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn). The Social Democratic Alliance was nearly wiped out, retaining only three MPs. The President has now invited the leader of the Independence Party to form a government.

There have been fierce conflicts within the Social Democratic Alliance in Iceland in recent years, according to professor Grétar Þór Eyþórsson at the University of Akureyri. He believes this definitely influenced the election results, and points to opinion polls earlier in the year which showed the party’s image among voters was coloured by unrest and internal conflict.

“It is not easy to campaign with that image,” he says.

The party sat in government in 2007 during the time of the economic crash, and later headed the government between 2009 and 2013. The Social Democratic Alliance lost severely in 2013. Now the voters have nearly completely abandoned them.

“The party has lost large groups of people who historically have made up their voter base,” professor Eyþórsson says.

Does not defend social democracy

The head of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), Gylfi Arnbjörnsson, agrees. He believes the party has moved closer to the Left-Green Movement, VG, with its focus on environmental policies and climate change. The party has left tradition social democratic policies to new parties, rather than defending social democracy and maintaining its position through cooperation with ASÍ and the trade unions. 

“It is no secret that since the Social Democratic Alliance formed a coalition government in 2007, there has been a rift between ASÍ and the party,” says Gylfi Arnbjörnsson.

A damaged brand

Professor Grétar Þór Eyþórsson does not believe social democratic issues have disappeared from Icelandic politics, despite the fact that the Social Democratic Alliance’s brand has been damaged among voters. He believes social democratic voters have simply moved to other parties. Iceland’s traditional left-right politics have changed, he says.

“The new parties might have moved Icelandic politics closer to the Scandinavian model with a new liberal party like Viðreisn, says Grétar Þór Eyþórsson.

“Time will tell how the social democracy develops, and whether the social democrats will come together again or remain divided,” he says.

Four victors

Seven political parties secured representatives in the Icelandic parliament at the election, a new record. Four of the seven parties are considered to be the winners: The new liberal party Viðreisn, the Left-Green Movement, the Pirate Party (Píratarnir) and the conservative Independence Party.

Political commentator Eiríkur Bergmann Einarsson points out that the government looses while the opposition fails to win a majority in the Icelandic parliament. New political parties emerge and this has influenced the result. He also explains how the Panama Papers triggered the election, and might also have influenced the result.

A complicated situation

It is still difficult to predict how Iceland’s new government will look. It is a complicated situation, and right now Eiríkur Bergmann believes it will be a centre-right coalition. But he does not rule out the possibility that the pirates might get a seat at the table following their historic election result.

“If a coalition cannot be agreed on quickly, we might have a political crisis in Iceland,” believes Eiríkur Bergmann Einarsson.

The election result

The conservative Independence party got 29.1 percent of the vote and 21 MPs.

The Left-Green Movement got 15.8 percent and 10 MPs.

The Pirate Party got 14.4 percent and 10 MPs.

The new liberal Viðreisn party got 10.4 percent and 7 MPs.

The Centre Party got 11.5 percent and 8 MPs. The party lost 11 MPs.

The Bright Future Party got 7.2 percent and 4 MPs.

The Social Democratic Alliance got 5.8 percent and 3 MPs, loosing 6.

Facts

Iceland’s parliament has 63 MPs. The new parliament has 31 new MPs, most of them from the Pirate Party and the new liberal party Viðreisn. The gender balance is even, 30 women and 33 men.

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