Guðni Th. Jóhannesson
Guðni Th. Jóhannesson
|6th President of Iceland|
|Assumed office |
1 August 2016
|Prime Minister||Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson|
|Preceded by||Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson|
Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson
26 June 1968
(m. 1995; div. 1996)
|Alma mater||University of Warwick|
University of Iceland
St Antony's College, Oxford
Queen Mary, University of London
Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈkvʏðnɪ ˈtʰɔrlaˌsiːʏs ˈjouːhanɛsɔn]; born 26 June 1968) is an Icelandic historian serving as the sixth and current president of Iceland. He took office in 2016 after winning the most votes in the 2016 election, 71,356 (39.1%). He was reelected in 2020 with 92.2% of the vote.
A historian, Guðni was a docent at the University of Iceland before running for president in 2016. His field of research is modern Icelandic history, and he has published works on the Cod Wars, the 2008–2011 Icelandic financial crisis and the Icelandic presidency, among other topics.
Early life and education
Guðni is the son of teacher and journalist Margrét Thorlacius and sports instructor Jóhannes Sæmundsson. His brother Patrekur Jóhannesson is a former Icelandic handball national team player. Guðni played handball in his youth, in both Iceland and the UK.
Guðni graduated from Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík (MR), a junior college in central Reykjavík, in 1987. While at MR, he competed in Gettu betur, an Icelandic team quiz show for junior college students. He earned a bachelor's degree in history and political science from the University of Warwick in England in 1991 and a Master of Arts in history from the University of Iceland in 1997. He has also studied German and Russian at university level. In 1999, he completed an MSt degree in history at St Antony's College at the University of Oxford. In 2003, he received a PhD in history from Queen Mary, University of London.
Guðni has worked as a lecturer at the University of Iceland, Bifröst University and University of London. At the time of his presidential candidacy he worked as a senior lecturer in history at the University of Iceland. His field of research is modern Icelandic history, in which he has published a number of works, including on the Cod Wars, the 2008–11 Icelandic financial crisis and the Icelandic presidency. He has written a biography of Gunnar Thoroddsen and a book about Kristján Eldjárn's presidency. Between 1992 and 1997, he translated four works by Stephen King into Icelandic. From 2011 to 2015, Guðni was president of Sögufélag, the Icelandic historical society.
Guðni decided to stand for president on 5 May 2016. Before his candidacy, he had appeared frequently on live television to provide commentary and historical context in the wake of the publication of the Panama Papers, which created a scandal for Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and ultimately led to his ouster. A scholar of the Icelandic presidency, Guðni delineated on live television the options available to incumbent president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and other Icelandic political actors. After his television appearances, there were calls for Guðni to run for the presidency himself.
His platform included support for a citizen initiative referendum provision in the Constitution. Early polls showed significant support, and following incumbent president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson's decision to drop out of the race Guðni saw an increase in popularity reflected in various polls, which ranked him first with 67% to 69%, far ahead of other contenders. Guðni was elected on 25 June after receiving a plurality of 39.1% of the vote.
Guðni was unaffiliated with any of Iceland's political parties. He said he would be a "less political president" than his predecessor due to a lack of partisanship. Guðni has emphasized the importance of unity for the small nation.
President of Iceland
Guðni took office as President of Iceland on 1 August 2016. At 48, he was Iceland's youngest president. Roughly one month into his term, Guðni had approval ratings of 68,6% in an MMR survey, the highest approval rating this pollster has measured for an Icelandic president since its establishment in 2011. Early in his term, Guðni had to oversee negotiations to form a government in Iceland in the wake of the 2016 Icelandic parliamentary election on 29 October. These negotiations were difficult, as no pre-election coalition had a majority, and all possible majority coalitions had parties with highly divergent policy positions. In December 2016, Guðni had approval ratings of 97%. Such high approval ratings for Icelandic politicians are without precedent. In April 2019, his approval rating was 93,5% among those who took a position in a survey.
Guðni stands outside organized religion, but was raised in the Catholic faith. He left the Catholic Church due to its delayed and muted response to reports of criminal abuses by priests. His credo is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "human beings are born free, equal in dignity and rights. Humans are endowed with reason and conscience and should act in the spirit of brotherhood towards each other."
Guðni is the son of the teacher and journalist Margrét Thorlacius and the physical education teacher and coach Jóhannes Sæmundsson. His father died of cancer at age 42. He has two brothers, Patrekur (a former Icelandic men's national handball team player, who is coach of the Austria men's national handball team and father of rapper JóiPé) and Jóhannes, who is a systems analyst.
Guðni married Canadian Eliza Jean Reid in 2004 and they have four children. The couple, who met while studying in the United Kingdom, moved to Iceland in 2003. Reid became First Lady of Iceland when her husband was sworn into office. Guðni also has a daughter from a previous marriage.
- Grand Cross Special Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (12 June 2019)
Guðni is distantly related to former US president Barack Obama: they are 24th cousins 8 times removed. The connection is through Obama's Scottish ancestry, but since almost all Icelanders can trace themselves to bishop Gottskálk grimmi Nikulásson they are all distantly related to Obama. Guðni also shares ancestry with former US president Donald Trump through their descent from Haakon V of Norway.
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- Royal Court
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