Politics of Iceland

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The political system of Iceland.
Coat of arms of Iceland.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Iceland
Constitution

Politics of Iceland takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Iceland is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. It is arguably the world's oldest parliamentary democracy.[1] Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament, the Althing. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Political developments[edit]

1990s[edit]

In losing four seats in the April 1995 parliamentary elections, the IP and SDP (so called Viðey government) mustered a simple majority in the 63-seat Althing. However, Prime Minister and IP leader Davíð Oddsson chose the resurgent Progressive Party (PP) as a more conservative partner to form a stronger and more stable majority with 40 seats. Splintered by factionalism over the economy and Iceland's role in the European Union (EU), the SDP also suffered from being the only party to support Iceland's EU membership application.

2000s[edit]

The beginning of the millennium saw a merger of all the left parties to form the Social Democratic Alliance. Some members chose to join another new left party instead, the Left-Green Movement. After the PP's loss in the 2007 elections its longstanding alliance with the IP ended despite still being able to form a majority. Instead the IP's leader Geir Haarde chose a stronger but somewhat unstable coalition with the Social Democrats (the Þingvellir government).

Haarde's administration fell apart in January 2009 and he called for an early election before standing down as party leader. The Social Democrats subsequently formed an interim government with the LGM. In the resulting election, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir's administration prevailed, the first time Icelanders voted for a majority left-wing government (the Nordic government).

Executive branch[edit]

Cabinet of Iceland, seat of executive branch.
Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson Independent 1 August 1996
Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson Progressive Party 23 May 2013

The president, elected to a 4-year term, has limited powers. The prime minister and cabinet exercise most executive functions. The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat, figurehead and head of state. The head of government is the prime minister, who, together with the cabinet, takes care of the executive part of government. The cabinet is appointed by the president after general elections to Althing; however, this process is usually conducted by the leaders of the political parties, who decide among themselves after discussions which parties can form the cabinet and how its seats are to be distributed (under the condition that it has a majority support in Althing). Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves in reasonable time does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet himself. This has never happened since the republic was founded in 1944, but in 1942 the regent of the country (Sveinn Björnsson, who had been installed in that position by the Althing in 1941) did appoint a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Björnsson in fact became the country's first president in 1944. The governments of Iceland have almost always been coalitions with two or more parties involved, because no single political party has received a majority of seats in Althing in the republic period. The extent of the political powers possessed by the office of the president are disputed by legal scholars in Iceland; several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers but other provisions and traditions suggest differently. The president is elected every four years (last 2004), the cabinet is elected every four years (last 2007) and town council elections are held every four years (last 2006).

Legislative branch[edit]

Parliament of Iceland, seat of legislative branch.

The modern parliament, called "Althing" or "Alþingi", was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish king. It was widely seen as a reestablishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period and suspended in 1799. The Althing is composed of 63 members, elected every 4 years unless it is dissolved sooner. Suffrage for presidential and parliamentary elections is 18 years of age and is universal. Members of the Althing are elected on the basis of proportional representation from six constituencies. Until 1991, membership of the Althing was divided between a lower and upper house but this was changed to a fully unicameral system.

Political parties and elections[edit]

After four 4-year terms as the world's first elected woman president, the widely popular Vigdís Finnbogadóttir chose not to run for re-election in 1996. More than 86% of voters turned out in the June 29, 1996 presidential elections to give former leftist party chairman Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson a 41% plurality and relatively comfortable 12% victory margin over the closest of three other candidates. Traditionally limited to 6–12 weeks, Iceland's campaign season was marked by several intensely personal attacks on Grímsson, a former finance minister who tried to erase memories of his controversial support of inflationary policies and opposition to the U.S. military presence at the NATO base in Keflavík. Grímsson successfully has used his largely ceremonial office to promote Icelandic trade abroad and family values at home.

V • T • E Summary of the 26 June 2004 Icelandic presidential election results
Candidate Party Votes %
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson independent 90,662 85.60
Baldur Ágústsson independent 13,250 12.51
Ástþór Magnússon independent 2,001 1.89
Valid votes 105,913 78.82
Invalid/Blank votes 28,461 21.17
Total 134,374 100.00
Electorate/Turnout 213,553 62.92
Source: Nohlen & Stöver
Last election (1996) — Next election (2012)


The next presidential elections are scheduled on 30 June 2012.[2]

The last parliamentary elections took place on April 25, 2009 after the government of Geir Haarde was forced to resign following street protests over its handling of the Icelandic economy. The ruling coalition parties, the Independence Party and the Progressive Party lost four seats in Alþingi but nevertheless still hold a slim majority of 32 seats, a 1 seat majority in the 63 seat Alþingi. But Independence Party and Progressive Party have split up after 12 years together; Independence Party formed a new coalition with Social Democratic Alliance under Haarde, a coalition holding 43 seats with a 20 seat majority in the 63 Seat Alþingi. A total of 185.392 votes were cast constituting 83.6% of 221.368 the electorate. Geir Haarde's government was forced to resign in January 2009 and called elections two years early, in which the outgoing left-wing interim government of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir won an overall majority.

The results of the 2009 election were as follows:

V • T • E Summary of the 25 April 2009 Icelandic parliamentary election results
Party Chairperson(s) Votes % ± Seats ±
Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir 55,758 29.79 Increase 3.03 20 Increase 2
Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) Bjarni Benediktsson 44,371 23.70 Decrease 12.94 16 Decrease 9
Left-Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin - grænt framboð) Steingrímur J. Sigfússon 40,581 21.68 Increase 7.33 14 Increase 5
Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn) Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson 27,699 14.80 Increase 3.08 9 Increase 2
Citizens' Movement (Borgarahreyfingin) no designated chairperson 13,519 7.22 4
Liberal Party (Frjálslyndi flokkurinn) Guðjón Arnar Kristjánsson 4,148 2.22 Decrease 5.04 0 Decrease 4
Democracy Movement (Lýðræðishreyfingin) Ástþór Magnússon 1,107 0.59 0
Valid votes 187,183 96.50
Invalid votes 566 0.29
Blank votes 6,226 3.21
Total 193,975 100.00 63
Female electorate 114,269 50.15
Male electorate 113,574 49.85
Female turnout 98,013 85.77
Male turnout 95,962 84.49
Electorate/Turnout 227,843 85.14
Source: Statistics Iceland
Last election (2007) — Next election (2013)

Judicial branch[edit]

The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court or Hæstiréttur, justices are appointed for life by the president, and district courts. The constitution protects the judiciary from infringement by the other two branches. The judicial system of Iceland is very similar to that of Norway, almost identical, according to the famous corruption hunter, Norwegian-born French-Norwegian Eva Joly.

Administrative divisions[edit]

Iceland is divided in 23 counties (sýslur, singular sýsla) and 14 independent towns* (kaupstaðir, singular kaupstaður); Akranes*, Akureyri*, Árnessýsla, Austur-Barðastrandarsýsla, Austur-Húnavatnssýsla, Austur-Skaftafellssýsla, Borgarfjarðarsýsla, Dalasýsla, Eyjafjarðarsýsla, Gullbringusýsla, Hafnarfjörður*, Húsavík*, Ísafjörður*, Keflavík*, Kjósarsýsla, Kópavogur*, Mýrasýsla, Neskaupstaður*, Norður-Ísafjarðarsýsla, Norður-Múlasýsla, Norður-Þingeyjarsýsla, Ólafsfjörður*, Rangárvallasýsla, Reykjavík*, Sauðárkrókur*, Seyðisfjörður*, Siglufjörður*, Skagafjarðarsýsla, Snæfellsnes- og Hnappadalssýsla, Strandasýsla, Suður-Múlasýsla, Suður-Þingeyjarsýsla, Vestmannaeyjar*, Vestur-Barðastrandarsýsla, Vestur-Húnavatnssýsla, Vestur-Ísafjarðarsýsla, Vestur-Skaftafellssýsla

International organization participation[edit]

Arctic Council, Australia Group, BIS, CBSS, CE, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EFTA, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, ICC, ICRM, IDA, IEA (observer), IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO, ITU, ITUC, NATO, NC, NEA, NIB, OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNMIK, UNU, UPU, WCO, WEU (associate), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Power Struggle. Marguerite Del Giudice. National Geographic. March 2008. p. 85.
  2. ^ "Icelandic PM wants public vote on new constitution". IceNews. Retrieved April 5, 2012.