Icelanders go to the polls for 3rd time in 4 years
REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Icelanders voted for the third time in four years Saturday as the nation tried to shake off the latest political crisis on an island roiled by divisions since its economy was ravaged by the global financial crisis.
Voters weary of political and economic chaos weren’t expected to produce an outright winner. Polls suggest the election will only lead to complex negotiations over building a coalition government.
A record eight parties could cross the 5-percent threshold needed to qualify for seats in the Icelandic parliament, the Althingi. Upstart parties are benefiting from a series of scandals affecting the ruling Independence Party.
Political analysts say the most likely outcome eventually is a coalition government led by Katrin Jakobsdottir of the Left Green Movement. The 41-year-old Jakobsdottir holds a graduate degree in Icelandic literature and would be among the world’s youngest leaders.
The election — whose themes have centered on stability and trust — was called in September amid allegations that the prime minister’s father backed an effort to aid the job prospects of a convicted pedophile. Bjarni Benediktsson’s government had come to power only last year after leaked documents linked his predecessor to bank accounts in offshore tax havens.
Economic upheaval has dogged this Nordic island nation of 330,000 after its debt-swollen banks collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis. It is now is experiencing a surge in tourism by those eager to see its pristine glaciers, fjords and waterfalls and the Northern Lights.
But Icelanders are worried that the worst is not yet over. On social media, voters expressed deja vu, complaining of a revolving door of political leaders and few new ideas.
Debate has centered on those still left behind despite the robust economy. A surplus of government revenues — gained from an economy growing at a whopping 7 percent last year — has spurred questions on lowering public debt, still high since the crash, versus increased government spending.
“Despite the economic boom, care for societies’ basic infrastructure has been left behind,” Jakobsdottir said, promising to increase taxes on the financial sector to fund new social policies.
Offering the counter view is the unorthodox Center Party, which promises to windfall “every Icelander” with government-owned bank stocks.
Iceland, which was declared a sovereign state under the Danish crown in 1918, will celebrate a century of self-rule next year. At the same time, it will also mark 10 years since the International Monetary Fund rescued the country’s finances.