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Posts tagged ‘Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson’

Sexist political comments create rage amongst Icelanders

Last month, six Icelandic politicians from two political parties, the Middle Party and the People’s Party, were drinking together at a bar opposite the parliament building (where their fellow politicians were still meeting). They were there for over three hours and were making loud, derogatory, misogynist remarks about a number of their fellow women colleagues (and former colleagues) as well as boasting about corruption incidents that some of them had been involved in.

Unknown to them, another guest was so disgusted by their behaviour that he recorded the conversations on his phone and later sent them to three of the more radical media outlets, two of which – DV and Stundin – worked with the recordings.

The politicians also made fun of Freyja Haraldsdottir, a disabled activist who was an alternate politician in the Althingi a few years ago. The comments about her have enraged the disabled rights’ movement.

Two of the politicians were Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson (remember him?). While he was Foreign Affairs Minister, Gunnar Bragi had set up the Barbershop “He for She” event in New York in 2015 to support non-sexist male attitudes and behaviour between men. Rather ironic really. The national committee of UN Women has said that GBS has damaged the reputation of He for She.

The two PP politicians, who made derogatory remarks about their leader, Inga Sæland, have been expelled from their party but will still be in the Althingi because they were elected as individuals. The PP now has only two members in the Althing.

The expelled members might well eventually join the Middle Party, as that was part of the conversation recorded in the bar. They have denied this, however – or at least have said that the time is not opportune to join another party. As many people have suspected, the Middle Party say that their policies are actually very similar to those of the PP party.

Meanwhile, GBS and a fellow Middle Party politician have decided to talk a break from the Althingi for an unspecified amount of time. They were “uninvited” to the traditional celebration held by Iceland’s president to celebrate Iceland’s sovereignty over Denmark, which took place on Thursday night.  The female MP politician, Anna Kolbrun Arnadottir (AKA) has said she is considering her situation (she and SDG were at the party).

In some countries, such as Sweden, politicians resign over mild scandals. But that rarely happens in Iceland.

Icelanders are enraged at the situation and a demonstration was called at short notice for today. It was expected to be attended by over 3,000 people, but was probably attended by more. The organizers are demanding that all six resign from the Althingi and get replaced by their alternates. One person said that an election should be called, as that’s the only way to get rid of them. Stay tuned.

Anyone want an article on this?

Update, December 5: There is such a tense, uncomfortable atmosphere now in the Althingi because 4 of the 6 are still present (and AKA and SDG have now both said they won’t resign) that I predict another election because the current atmosphere is unworkable.


Iceland elects corrupt politicians yet again

Eight parties won seats in the Icelandic parliamentary elections on Saturday, held 364 days after the previous elections. The run-up was short and there was little discussion of issues – I think that many politicians thought that general public would remember their last promises – and the campaign revolved more around personalities. 63 seats were contested.

Despite the Left-Greens having a marginal lead early on, Bjarni Ben used his 4th life (like cats, I’m convinced he has nine lives and unfortunately hasn’t used them all up yet) to bring his party to 25.25% share of the vote and 16 elected candidates, whereas the Left-Greens got 11 people in and 16.89% of the vote.

Three weeks before the election, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of Wintris fame, who was booted out of his Prime Minister role after the Panama papers interview and who had done virtually zilch after he lost his position as leader of the Progressive Party, formed his own party, the Middle Party, and got 7 people in, some of whom had been representing his old party. He will, I suspected, remain alienated from other political parties with the exception of Bjarni Ben’s crowd, who have no scruples. But now it appears he is in league with a new “populist” party, the People’s Party, that got in with 4 candidates on the basis of working on behalf of the elderly and disabled. Some of their policies had been somewhat spurious but I suspect that at least some of the people who voted for them did so on the basis that they were not SDG or BB.

The party that walked out of the last coalition government, Bright Future, paid for their allegiance to BB with a disastrous election result of 1.22%, and at the time the last coalition was formed only 25% of BF voters were happy with the idea. Those people switched their allegiance to other parties this time round – and the same thing will happen to Inga Saeland and her People’s Party.

The other coalition party with BB, Vidreisn/Reform, also lost seats in this election. On the other hand, the Social Democrats (who had also had a bad experience of working with BB’s party prior to the bank crash) rose up from the ashes to get 12.05% of the vote and 7 seats this time instead of scraping in with 3 like last time.

The Pirates lost 4 seats and now have 6 – they admit that they probably forgot to talk about issues. Their main issue was the need for a new constitution, which is important but obviously not enough to win supporters. SDG’s old party, the Progressive Party, got 8 seats and 10.71% of the vote. As part of the opposition over the last year, they had become (temporarily at least) left-wing.

Katrin Jakobsdottir from the Left-Greens wants to have a coalition government made up of the four parties who were in opposition last time around, i.e. Progressive Party, SDP, Pirates and Left-Greens, and will have a one-seat majority. BB of course wants to form a government and so does SDG, but both parties will have difficulty finding enough parties willing to work with them due to the corruption scandals of their leaders. (Interestingly, the investigative paper Stundin had done an article on how parties would handle corruption and two of the three parties which didn’t reply were those of BB and SDG – which are precisely the parties that need to address the issue the most.)

Although Iceland has proportional representation, its voting system is somewhat complicated so that the PP got more seats than the SDP despite having a smaller proportion of voters electing it. This is something that a new constitution should address.




Icelandic government on brink of taking power but could face vote of no confidence

Iceland is on the brink of getting a new ruling coalition – the Independent Party, Vidreisn (= Reform) and Bright Future. They have actually tried before to form a coalition, to no avail. But this time it’s worked. The final touches are being made today, including who the Ministers will be, but it’s clear that Bjarni Benediktsson from the Independent Party will be Prime Minister.

But there are already problems. Bjarni Ben (BB) was associated with the Panama Papers scandal, and at a meeting in Reykjavik before the elections French MEP Eva Joly said she was surprised that he and the others named at the time, Olof Nordahl and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, would even dream of standing again. But yes, they all got back in.

Last summer, BB set up a committee to look into how much money Iceland has lost from companies and individuals with assets in offshore islands such as Panama and Tortola. The committee actually reported back on September 13 but BB said that the Finance Ministry, which he headed, had actually received the report on October 13, after the Althingi had dissolved.

The report wasn’t published on the Ministry’s website until last week, though. Over the weekend BB backed down and said he’d been given a presentation of the findings in the report on October 5. He gave some feeble excuse about not remembering the exact date as he was campaigning for election at the time, but basically he lied. And people are angry.

The Pirate Party are considering calling for a vote of no confidence in the not-yet-formed government coalition because of this. Smari McCarthy, one of the Pirate MPs, said that there was very little difference in the behaviour of Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who was forced to resign after the Wintris scandal, and BB. Svandis Svavarsdottir from the Left-Greens has put in a written request to the Parliamentary Ombudsman about whether delaying publication of the report until after the election can be considered a breach. The Reform Party are taking the matter seriously and I can’t imagine that Bright Future are pleased either. Indeed, in a vote to agree cooperation with Reform and IP, over 25% of those voting opposed the collaboration and policy statement.

Meanwhile, sorting out who will be Ministers is posing a problem. Bright Future are supposed to get two Ministerial positions, including the Environment Ministry, but there are only 4 MPs so they will be under a lot of pressure as they will also have to take part in government committees. And BB is in trouble because he can’t find enough women with experience for the 5 Ministers his party will get. The Reform Party lacks experience too – they will get two Ministers – apart from Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir, who split from the Independent Party but was Education Minister at one time for that party. There is animosity towards her from some members of BB’s party because of her defection.

This government is headed for difficulties. It only has a one-seat majority, so it won’t take much to unseat it. We’ll see.

Update: It turns out that the IP have 6 Ministers, Reform has 3 and Bright Future 2 (including the environment ministry). Of them, only 4 have held a ministerial position previously and 3 are new to the Althingi. Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir is Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture.

Update: The government has fallen, after sitting for 247 days instead of 4 years.



Political situation in Iceland complex

In the recent parliamentary election in Iceland, the Independent Party gained 21 out of 63 seats and its leader, Bjarni Benediktsson, was given the mandate to form a government. But it turns out not to be a simple job. The fact that some parties said prior to the election that they wouldn’t work with certain other parties isn’t making life easy for him, as the next largest parties, the Left-Greens and the Pirates – which both gained 10 seats – refuse to work with the Independent Party because of its Panama connections. Bjarni Ben is making moves with Vidreisn and Bright Future, which will give them a one-person majority, but some members of the IP are more interested in working with the Left-Greens as well as with the Progressive Party (PP), whose ex-leader Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was exposed in the Panama Papers. Not surprisingly, the Left-Greens don’t want to work with the PP either. Oh, and the PP is split because most of the PP politicians don’t want to work with SDG.

Vidreisn is essentially a splinter party from the IP but is pro-EU (the IP is anti-EU). Some members of the IP view Vidreisn with animosity because of the splinter. Bright Future is centre in terms of politics, and have said that they’re not particularly keen on the idea of working the the IP.

Bjarni Ben said yesterday that if he feels he’s not getting anywhere (and he’s not), he’ll relinquish his mandate of forming a government, which means it will probably then go to Katrin Jacobsdottir from the Left-Greens, who wants to form a government with all parties except the IP and PP. It might well be that the Left-Greens will form a ruling coalition with Vidreisn and BF, with the Pirates and the now-miniscule Social Democrats on the sidelines, ready to support the coalition if need be. The Pirates are happy to relinquish ministerial positions, and the Social Democrats – who had said they were happy to form a Left-Centre alliance prior to the election – performed so badly that they have said they don’t want to be part of the ruling coalition.

It’s problematic also because Iceland has always had a two-party ruling coalition, but with 7 parties in the parliament the numbers don’t work this time and it has to be three.

I predict that the next Prime Minister will be Katrin Jakobsdottir. And the world will take notice.

UPDATE: It’s now over a month since the elections and talks have happened twice, first between the Independent Party, Vidreisn and Bright Future and then between the LG, Pirates, BF, Vidreisn and Social Democrats. But both sets of talks petered out. Vidreisn and Bright Future appear to have become inseparable. After having given the mandate to form a government to first Bjarni Ben and then to Katrin Jakobsdottir, he decided on Friday to let the parties sort it out themselves for the time being. Stay tuned.




Talks begin about forming a new Icelandic government

The 2016 Icelandic national election, which took place yesterday, has produced a difficult position in terms of forming a new government. The conservative Independent Party, led by Bjarni Benediktsson who was named in the Panama Papers scandal, got 29% of the vote and 21 MPs out of a total of 63. But neither of the next most popular parties,  the Left-Greens and the Pirates, want to work with the IP. They both got 10 MPS. The foreign press have been particularly interested in the Pirate Party as until the last two weeks or so it had been leading opinion polls (if that means anything) for the last 18 months. But as Icelanders know, much of the Pirate’s support comes from young people, and young people are less likely to vote than others. Still, the Pirates have managed to go from 3 to 10 MPs, which is very good.

For two weeks prior to the elections, the Pirates had also been talking with the three other Opposition parties about having a joint plan for working together after the election.

The new government will be made up of seven different parties, one of which – Vidreisn – is new and is essentially a splinter group of the IP except that Vidreisn is pro the EU. It did well, with 7 MPs in, but has been reluctant to become involved with the Pirate coalition.  Without Vidreisn, the Pirate coalition is doomed to failure, as the Social Democrats – the party that pushed for Iceland’s accession to the EU – did abysmally, with only 3 MPs.

From what our most recent Prime Minister from the Progressive Party said this morning, before he handed in his resignation to the President, it seems that his party is in the midst of internal strife so is unlikely to be in a position of being capable of running the country, even if asked. The situation between Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who was PM until early April when he left because of Wintris, and Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, who SDG appointed as his replacement, has been very strained since SDG lost his position to SIJ as Chair of the Progressive Party a few weeks ago.

Whatever happens, time is of the essence because a new Budget has to be agreed before the end of the year.

The new Althingi will be made up of 30 women and 33 men; never before has the percentage of women been so high at the start of the electoral term. And of the 63 members, 31 will be new.

Reykjavik has been awash with foreign journalists because of the elections, but if anyone wants and update as the situation develops, let me know. I promise I won’t write misleading news, like AFP did last night after misinterpreting a figure at the top of the website of the State Radio and Broadcasting Service and calling it Breaking News.


Iceland’s political situation is a farce

The situation in Iceland has in many ways been farcical since the Mossack Fonseca scandal broke. First, the then-PM, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, caused utter confusion when he tried to dissolve the government but wasn’t allowed to, but later that day resigned anyway – though maybe not completely. New elections were called for but not heeded: instead, another Minister was appointed PM, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson (SIJ), and SDG became a rank-and-file MP who took a long break from work soon afterwards. He returned a week ago, and caused confusion once again (see below).

Take two: There is a presidential election coming up in a month’s time. Iceland’s current president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson (ORG), has been in office for 20 years and said in his presidential address at the start of the year that he wouldn’t run for president again. So around 20 people decided that they would run for presidency.

Fine, except that ORG decided soon after SDG took a holiday from politics that given the situation, Iceland needed a president who was experienced and capable – and none of the candidates were, in his mind. So he changed his mind and decided to run again. Subsequently about 5 of the presidential hopefuls decided to quit because they didn’t want to run against a sitting president. Then a few others were pressured (or so the story goes) to run for presidency and ORG decided that the new candidates DID have the required experience – and he changed his mind again and withdrew his candidacy.

One of the more recent candidates is a historian called Gudni Th. Johannesson, who ironically was almost constantly on the TV screens as a political commentator after the Mossack Fonseca scandal broke. He is also putting the final touches to a book on, yes, Icelandic presidents.

The other interesting new candidate is David Oddsson, who was a former PM of Iceland but was one of the CEOs of the Central Bank of Iceland at the time that the banks crashed (note that he’s trained as a lawyer, not an economist). He subsequently left the bank to become an editor of the newspaper Morgunbladid  – which led to a huge drop in readership of that paper as he was said to promote the interests of the big fishing companies, not to mention the right-wing Independent Party. The Special Investigation Committee decided that he was guilty of neglect in the time leading up to the bank crash.

Back to SDG – after SIJ took over and as a consequence of pressure from the public and opposition MPs, the ruling coalition acceded to an early election “in autumn, as long as we can get through our main policies without problems from the opposition”.  No date, though. But as soon as SDG arrived back, he started to question the early election, saying “we never promised that”. Since then, other Progressive Party MPs have also questioned the need for an early election (both SFG and SIJ are PP members). So what will happen now is anyone’s guess.


To round it all off: The Icelandic Althingi recently passed legislation that allows prisoners to leave prison earlier than before. Five of the 13 prisoners released early are the Kaupthing bankers, who are now at the halfway house Vernd. They have to be back at Vernd by 11 p.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends. Which is fine – except one of them, Olafur Olafsson, got in the news last weekend as he had taken a helicopter with 3 customers and an Icelandic pilot on a sightseeing trip and crashed in the Hengill mountains, about 35 km from Reykjavik. He’s obviously getting himself accustomed to “everyday life” again!  IMG_1653












Disgruntled Icelanders demand more

The announcement of Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson as Iceland’s new Prime Minister has done little to appease the general public. In a popularity survey some time ago, only 3% of the population named him as their favourite minister (today’s poll, though, shows that 20% of the population bear a lot or quite a lot of trust towards him). When he was covering the environment ministry as well as officially being the agriculture and fisheries minister, he was definitely controversial: besides having doubts about the need for an environment ministry at all (“environmental issues can be covered by other ministries”) he also called off an official preservation order  at the last minute, due to pressure from interested parties.

He’s reformed the government with two of the MPs named in the Panama papers, Olof Nordal and Bjarni Benediktsson, still heading their respective ministries and the outgoing PM, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, still a member of the Althingi. And they’ve said that they will hold an election in the autumn instead of May 2017. The public, the government opposition parties and some members of the ruling coalition parties are demanding an immediate election, but the government want to hold the election in autumn “to ensure that all their electoral promises are carried out”. If the opposition parties filimonger, which is expected, does this mean that there will be no autumn election? That’s what some are saying.

More dirt from the Panama Papers is expected, and it is highly likely that the ruling coalition will be implicated in some way.

On a related note, three of the imprisoned Kaupthing bankers were released from open prison yesterday after spending only one year of sentences ranging from 3-4 years. They were sent to Vernd, a halfway house for prisoners, where they will spend the next year or so before being released with ankle bands. OK, so the law has been changed recently to allow prisoners to spend less time in prison itself and more time under some kind of supervision, but the timing of their release  was not particularly opportune. The prisoners’ association is complaining of discrimination.

Meanwhile, noisy protests are continuing daily, both outside the Althingi and anywhere else that seems appropriate. And believe me, they won’t stop.