Ice­land set for coali­tion hag­gling af­ter close vote Prime Min­is­ter ac­cepts re­sults, set to resign

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ice­land was headed for tense talks over its next govern­ment af­ter an al­liance led by the anti-es­tab­lish­ment Pi­rate Party gained ground against the rul­ing cen­tre-right in a vote trig­gered by the Panama Pa­pers scan­dal. Fi­nal fig­ures from Satur­day’s snap elec­tion pointed to a dead­locked out­come, open­ing the way for tough horse-trad­ing over the next govern­ment in the North At­lantic is­land na­tion.

Prime Min­is­ter Sig­ur­dur Ingi Jo­hanns­son told the na­tional broad­caster RUV he would resign yes­ter­day. Ne­go­ti­a­tions on form­ing a govern­ment are to be led by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bjarni Benedik­ts­son, whose con­ser­va­tive In­de­pen­dence Party won most seats. Ac­cord­ing to fi­nal re­sults is­sued yes­ter­day, the gov­ern­ing coali­tion-the In­de­pen­dence Party, al­lied with Jo­hanns­son’s cen­trist Pro­gres­sive Party-gained 29 seats in the 63-mem­ber par­lia­ment.

The Pi­rates and its three cen­tre-left al­lies won 27 seats, reap­ing gains from pop­u­lar anger with es­tab­lish­ment par­ties but fall­ing short of a ma­jor­ity in the leg­is­la­ture, the Althingi. The Pi­rates and the Left-Green Move­ment each picked up 10 seats, the So­cial Democrats three, and the cen­trist Bright Fu­ture Move­ment won four.

The cen­trist Re­gen­er­a­tion Party, which won seven seats, now finds it­self able to de­ter­mine the fate of coali­tion talks. But ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Re­gen­er­a­tion and Benedik­ts­son’s In­de­pen­dence Party could be tough. The par­ties fell out over hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum on re­sum­ing the na­tion’s EU mem­ber­ship talks, stalled by the in­cum­bent con­ser­va­tive govern­ment.

“We have not been neg­a­tive to­wards other par­ties or how gov­ern­ments should be formed,” the leader of the Re­gen­er­a­tion Party, Benedikt Jo­han­nes­son told AFP. But, he pre­dicted, his party could be “very de­mand­ing in the bar­gain­ing process” with the In­de­pen­dence Party. The elec­tion was trig­gered af­ter the Panama Pa­pers re­vealed that 600 Ice­landers in­clud­ing cab­i­net min­is­ters, bankers and busi­ness lead­ers had hold­ings stashed away in off­shore ac­counts. The scan­dal claimed the scalp of Jo­hanns­son’s pre­de­ces­sor, Sig­mundur David Gunnlaugs­son, mired in al­le­ga­tions about fam­ily hold­ings stashed in tax havens. The episode re­vived pub­lic anger first stirred by the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, which wrecked Ice­land’s bank­ing in­dus­try and plunged the coun­try into re­ces­sion, prompt­ing it to seek a hu­mil­i­at­ing bailout from the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund (IMF).

‘Like Robin Hood’

The Pi­rates Party laid down a five-point pro­gram that in­cludes con­sti­tu­tional change to make lead­ers more ac­count­able, free health care, greater pro­tec­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources and the clo­sure of tax loop­holes for large cor­po­ra­tions. The lead­ers of the party, set up just four years ago by an­ar­chists, ac­tivists and hack­ers, said they was pleased with its ad­vances, even if an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity failed to emerge.

“We are very sat­is­fied,” said co­founder Bir­gitta Jons­dot­tir, an ac­tivist, poet and Wik­iLeaks sup­porter. “We are a plat­form for young peo­ple, for pro­gres­sive peo­ple who shape and re­shape our so­ci­ety... like Robin Hood be­cause Robin Hood was a pi­rate, we want to take the power from the pow­er­ful to give it to the peo­ple,” Jons­dot­tir told AFP, re­fer­ring to the English out­law of leg­end.

Gre­tar Ey­tors­son, pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Akureyri, said the Pi­rates did not gain a ma­jor­ity be­cause not enough young peo­ple went to the polling sta­tions de­spite a near 80 per­cent over­all turnout. “What was sus­pected hap­pened. The young vot­ers did not show up,” he told AFP. “That was most likely the big­gest rea­son for their loss... com­pared with the polls. But let’s not for­get that they are a much big­ger party now.” Ice­land, a vol­canic is­land with a pop­u­la­tion of 332,000, has re­turned to pros­per­ity since its 2008 fi­nan­cial melt­down. Gross do­mes­tic prod­uct growth is ex­pected to be above four per­cent this year thanks to tourism rev­enues and a re­cov­er­ing fi­nan­cial sys­tem. — AFP

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