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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Iceland 2007 parliamentary election

by Manuel Alvarez-Rivera

Voters in Iceland go to the polls on Saturday, May 12, 2007 to choose members of the country's unicameral legislature, the Althing. Parliamentary elections in Iceland are carried out by proportional representation, and the electoral system - reviewed in Elections to the Icelandic Althing - bears strong similarities to the systems used in Scandinavian countries for national elections.

Although Iceland has a total population of only 300,000 inhabitants, the country has developed a lively multi-party system, broadly similar to those in place in other Nordic nations, yet distinct in a number of ways. First, unlike in the other Nordic countries, Iceland's party politics have been dominated by the conservative Independence Party, which has been the largest single party in every general election held in Iceland since 1944, when the country broke its union with Denmark and became a republic.

Second, until fairly recent times Iceland's Social Democrats were much weaker than their Nordic counterparts, and usually alternated in third place with the left-socialist People's Alliance. However, in 1999 the Social Democrats, the People's Alliance and a feminist group, the Women's Alliance, joined forces and established a social democratic Alliance, which went on to displace the agrarian-liberal Progressive Party as the country's second largest political force.

Third, right-left coalitions between parties that otherwise would be political adversaries have been a common occurrence in Iceland (but remain fairly rare in the other Nordic countries, with the notable exception of Finland). No party has held an overall parliamentary majority since the proclamation of the republic in 1944, and the country has been ruled by a succession of coalition cabinets. The Independence Party, which has taken part in most governments, has been in office since 1991, in coalition with the Social Democrats until 1995, and since then with the Progressive Party.

While the Alliance was largely successful in bringing together Iceland's diverse left-wing groups and emerged as a major challenger to the Independence Party in the 2003 Althing election, some members of the original parties (mainly from the People's Alliance) did not agree to the merger and established the Left-Green Movement as a leftist alternative to the Alliance. Both the Left-Green Movement and the Liberal Party - an Independence Party breakaway - have been represented in the Althing since 1999, along with the three larger parties.


Iceland newsdaily Morgunblaðið ("The Morning Paper") reports complete results of the May 12, 2007 Althing election were as follows:

Independence Party (D) - 66,749 votes (36.6%), 25 seats
Alliance (S) - 48,742 votes (26.8%), 18 seats
Left-Green Movement (V) - 26,136 votes (14.3%), 9 seats
Progressive Party (B) - 21,349 votes (11.7%), 7 seats
Liberal Party (F) - 13,233 votes (7.3%), 4 seats
Iceland's Movement (I) - 5,953 votes (3.3%), no seats

The election had a voter turnout rate of 83.6%.

Although the opposition parties won an overall majority of the popular vote, the Independence-Progressive coalition government of Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde nonetheless survived by the narrowest of margins, hanging on to a one-seat majority in the Althing. Haarde's Independence Party improved its standing with respect to the 2003 parliamentary election, but the Progressives had their worst general election result ever and slipped to fourth place.

Iceland's main opposition party, the social democratic Alliance also lost ground in the election, but the Left-Green Movement polled strongly, becoming the country's third largest party. Finally, support for the Liberal Party remained stable, while the environmentalist-oriented Iceland's Movement failed to secure parliamentary representation.

Following the close election outcome, the Independence and Progressive parties chose to discontinue their coalition agreement, and the Independence Party subsequently reached an agreement with the Alliance to form a coalition government headed by Prime Minister Haarde.