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Politics of Iceland

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Political system of Iceland

Íslensk stjórnmál (Icelandic)
Polity typeParliamentary Republic
ConstitutionConstitution of Iceland
Legislative branch
Meeting placeAlþingishúsið, Reykjavík
Presiding officerBirgir Ármannsson, Speaker of the Althing
AppointerDirect election
Executive branch
Head of State
TitlePresident of Iceland
CurrentlyGuðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson
AppointerDirect election
Head of Government
TitlePrime Minister of Iceland
CurrentlyBjarni Benediktsson
NameCabinet of Iceland
Current cabinetBjarni Beneiktsson cabinet
LeaderPrime Minister
Ministries12 Ministries
Judicial branch
NameJudiciary of Iceland
Supreme Court of Iceland
Chief judgeBenedikt Bogason
SeatSupreme Court Building

The politics of Iceland take place in the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the president is the head of state, while the prime minister of Iceland serves as the head of government in a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the parliament, the Althingi. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Iceland is arguably the world's oldest assembly democracy,[1] and has been rated as a "full democracy" in 2021.[2]

Executive branch[edit]

Cabinet of Iceland, seat of executive branch
Main office-holders
Office Name Party Since
President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson Independent 1 August 2016
Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson Independence Party 9 April 2024

Elected to a four-year term, the President has limited powers and is poised in a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat and figurehead. On 1 August 2016, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson became the new president of Iceland. He was re-elected with an overwhelming majority of the vote in the 2020 presidential election.[3]

The prime minister and cabinet exercise most executive functions. 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 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 themselves. 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) appointed a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Sveinn 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 the Althing during Iceland's republican period. The extent of the political powers possessed by the office of the president is 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 2020), the cabinet is elected every four years (last 2021) and town council elections are held every four years (last 2018).

Legislative branch[edit]

Parliament of Iceland, seat of legislative branch.

The modern parliament, called the "Althing" or "Alþingi", was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish king. It was widely seen as a re-establishment 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 the elections[edit]

After four four-year terms as the world's first elected woman president, the widely popular Vigdís Finnbogadóttir chose not to run for re-election in 1996.[4] 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 Ólafur Ragnar, 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. Ólafur Ragnar successfully used his largely ceremonial office to promote Icelandic trade abroad and family values at home. The last presidential elections took place on June 27, 2020.

The last parliamentary elections took place on September 25, 2021. A three-party coalition was formed following the 2017 parliamentary elections by the Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn), the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn) and the Left-Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð). These political parties were again the three largest in Iceland after the latest elections and subsequently continued the coalition for another term.[5] This was the first time since 2009 in which existing coalition is renewed in Iceland.[6] A total of 203,898 votes were cast consulting 80.1% of the 254,681 electorates.[7]

Political history[edit]


In losing four seats in 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 - 2010s[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).

Geir'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.

After the 2008 financial crisis, there has been an increasing fractionalization of the Icelandic party system. The increase in the number of parties has made it harder for coalition governments to form.[8] What's more, since the initial resignation of the government in January 2009 after the banking collapse, revelations of subsequent political scandals have resulted in the government collapsing in 2016, following the Panama Papers, and again in 2017, following revelations of impropriety within the ranks of the political class; both instances culminated in anti-government protests being staged.[9] Organized protests held to highlight and challenge political corruption since 2008 have therefore come to stress the necessity for the new Icelandic constitution that was co-drafted by the 2009 leftist government and select members of the public to be enshrined into law.[10]

Political system of Iceland


After the 2021 parliamentary election, the new government was, just like the previous government, a tri-party coalition of the Independence Party, the Progressive Party and the Left-Green Movement, headed by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.[11] In April 2024, Bjarni Benediktsson of the Independence party succeeded Katrín Jakobsdóttir as prime minister.[12]

Judicial branch[edit]

The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court (Hæstiréttur) and district courts. Justices are appointed for life by the minister of justice. The Constitution protects the judiciary from infringement by the other two branches.

Administrative divisions[edit]

Iceland is divided into 8 regions, which are further subdivided into 77 municipalities.

Until 1988, Iceland was 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]

Further reading[edit]

  • Baldur Thorhallsson (ed.). 2018. Small States and Shelter Theory: Iceland's External Affairs. Routledge.
  • Baldur Thorhallsson (ed.). 2021. Iceland's Shelter-Seeking Behavior: From Settlement to Republic. Cornell University Library
  • Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson. 2007. Íslenska stjórnkerfið. Háskólaútgáfan.
  • Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson. 2021. Elítur og valdakerfi á Íslandi. Háskólaútgáfan.
  • Hulda Thórisdóttir, Ólafur Th. Harðarson, Eva H. Önnudóttir, and Agnar Freyr Helgason. 2021. Electoral Politics in Crisis After the Great Recession: Change, Fluctuations and Stability in Iceland. Routledge.


  1. ^ Del Giudice, Marguerite (March 2008). "Power Struggle". Iceland's Heated Debate - National Geographic Magazine. National Geographic. p. 85. Archived from the original on 2017-11-07. Retrieved 2019-07-21.
  2. ^ "Global democracy has a very bad year". The Economist. February 2, 2021. Archived from the original on February 2, 2021. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  3. ^ "Guðni Th. Jóhannesson Reelected President". Iceland Monitor. 29 June 2020.
  4. ^ Kristinsson, Gunnar Helgi (1996-11-01). "The presidential election in Iceland 1996". Electoral Studies. 15 (4): 533–537. doi:10.1016/s0261-3794(96)80470-7.
  5. ^ "From Iceland — Iceland's New Government Announced". The Reykjavik Grapevine. 2021-11-28. Retrieved 2022-03-10.
  6. ^ Fernando Casal Bertoa. "Government coalition survives in Iceland – for the first time since the bank crash of 2008". Who Governs Europe. Retrieved 2022-03-10.
  7. ^ "Úrslit Alþingiskosninga 2021". mbl.is (in Icelandic). Retrieved 2022-03-10.
  8. ^ Hardarson, Ólafur Th; Kristinsson, Gunnar Helgi (2018-12-01). "Iceland: Political development and data for 2017". European Journal of Political Research Political Data Yearbook. 57 (1): 135–141. doi:10.1111/2047-8852.12222. ISSN 2047-8852. S2CID 158256950.
  9. ^ Heffernan, Timothy (2020-01-01). "Crisis and Belonging: Protest Voices and Empathic Solidarity in Post-Economic Collapse Iceland". Religions. 11 (1): 22. doi:10.3390/rel11010022.
  10. ^ Heffernan, Timothy (2020-06-01). ""Where Is the New Constitution?" Public Protest and Community-Building in Post–Economic Collapse Iceland". Conflict and Society. 6 (1): 236–254. doi:10.3167/arcs.2020.060114. hdl:1959.4/unsworks_73167.
  11. ^ "New Government of Iceland Takes Office". Iceland Monitor. 29 November 2021.
  12. ^ Bryant, Miranda; correspondent, Miranda Bryant Nordic (10 April 2024). "Iceland appoints Bjarni Benediktsson to replace Katrín Jakobsdóttir as PM". The Guardian.

External links[edit]