Iceland’s New Dawn

by JOSÉ M. TIRADO

The numbers are in and they are decisive. The longstanding, corporate-right forces of the Independence Party, known here as Iceland’s “Republicans”, have received a trouncing at the polls. With 100% of the vote tallied, the Social Democratic Alliance (moderate Socialist) won 29.8% of the vote (55,758 votes) and their partners the Left-Green Movement (Socialist-Green-Feminist) 21.7% (40,580 votes).

Together they will now have 20 and 14 seats in the Parliament, or Althingi, respectively; 34 out of 63 total. The new Citizen’s Movement (left-populist) received 7.2% of the vote, garnering 4 seats. The former ruling Independence Party received 44,369 votes, shockingly losing 9 seats. Their support in the country has never been this low. Their former coalition partners, the Progressive Alliance (center-Right) gained only 2 seats.

The fact that the Independence Party received less than 4000 votes over the Left-Greens signals a sea change in how Icelanders view their country and what should be done to take them out of the ruin imposed on them through 18 years of Independence Party and Progressive Alliance (mis)rule. While pre-poll surveys suggested even higher votes for the Left-Greens, this still remains a huge victory for them. Steingrimur Sigfusson, leader of the Left-Greens will probably remain as Finance Minister and his principled opposition to EU and privatization of resources will keep his voice, and party, in the forefront of all major decisions in the days ahead.

Another significant change is the rise of the Citizen’s Movement, a brand new populist based group that arose out of the “pots and pan revolution” which toppled the right wing government this past winter. This new group will now have 4 seats in Parliament bringing the number of left-populist ministers to 38 out of 63. Iceland will now have one of the most Left-oriented governments of any of the industrialized Western nations. (And special note should be made that 43% percent of the parliament are now women, including the Prime Minister.)

Is this a coup for the Left? Possibly. European Union membership is now the big issue, and unlike most of the Parliament, the Left-Greens are not in favor. Is this a big victory for the people against the moneyed interests who have ruined the world economy? Definitely. Without engaging in too much hyperbole, this next government will take office reflecting a new era of populist revolt against the policies embodied by speculative banking and investment, emblematic of the past 20 years or so in public policy around the world. Don’t let anyone tell you that 300,000+ people can’t signal a shift that might have repercussions for the US. At 1/1000th the population and a far more homogenous society than the US is, it might at first appear so. But looks can be deceiving.

Icelanders took to the streets with grit and determination following revelations that their ruined economy was driven into the ground by self-serving politicians interested more in hobnobbing with celebrities and selling off the country’s resources to the highest bidder than in advancing the people’s best interests. The people decided (in their typically reserved Icelandic manner) that enough is enough and nonviolently toppled the establishment in just a few short months. The people withheld their support, obstructed the governance of the country, and demanded completely new elections. They got all of that and more. A whopping 85.1% of eligible voters voted yesterday, an indication of Scandinavian civic-mindedness, to be sure, but also an indicator of how mobilized the people were.

Whether the new governing coalition can deliver considering the extremely difficult circumstances plaguing the world economy will not be easy to say. Some key differences within the newly certified governing coalition will make solving their problems a bit more complicated than one might at first suspect, given the uniformly positive support the broad Left has received. For example, the Left-Green Movement, unlike the Social Democrats, opposes attempts to join the European Union, which may have siphoned votes from the Independence Party which has also historically opposed the EU. Thus, the Social Democrats, who favor EU integration, will need to proceed cautiously (although the Citizen’s Movement and Progressive Party also favor EU entry). And should EU membership be advanced out of the Parliament, another election will need to be held with a nationwide referendum on EU membership taken.

While a majority in the new Parliament favor EU entry, (even some Independence Party members now support it) the country as a whole is split on this issue but Icelanders aren’t known for impulsively acting on urges (which is partly why the people were so mad at the former government) and will debate this issue carefully. There are pluses and minuses either way. Joining the EU will affect Iceland’s fishing and immigration policies, among other things, and they are in no position to demand concessions considering their precarious financial condition.

But many Icelander’s seeking long-term stability view safety in EU numbers. Either way, major decisions about social service spending, repayment of debt, ensuring unemployment benefits, and restructuring the banking system, while investigating the shenanigans which brought them into this mess in the first place, will be the first tasks ahead. Thus, Jóhanna Sigurdadóttir, the acerbic but viewed as incorruptible Prime Minister, will have her hands full.

For now however, the morning after is quiet as hangovers are nursed and a new era dawns for this republic of Vikings tenaciously clawing their way back into solvency and 21st century relevancy. One can only hope the Left in the US learns something about coalition-building and sustaining mass-based popular movements against government policies that benefit the wealthy few over the many.

Rev. JOSÉ M. TIRADO is a poet, priest and writer finishing a PhD in psychology while living in Iceland.

José M. Tirado is a Puertorican poet and political writer living in Hafnarfjorður, Iceland, known for its elves, “hidden people” and lava fields. His articles and poetry have been featured in CounterPunch, Cyrano´s Journal, The Galway Review, Dissident Voice, La Respuesta, Op-Ed News, among others. He can be reached at tirado.jm@gmail.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal