Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Iceland’s Crippling Elections


With 94.8% of the votes tallied, Icelanders last night handed the governing coalition of the Social Democrat Alliance and the Left-Green Movement a crippling defeat, turning over the reins of power right back to the same coalition which wrecked the economy 5 years ago: the Independence Party and the Progressive Party. 26.7% of the electorate backed the Independence Party and 24.4% voted for the Progressives, both center-right institutions, with deep interests in the banking sector, the “sea barons,“ and the agricultural companies. (The governing coalition together barely topped 20%: the Social Democrats received only 12.9%, the Left-Greens 10.9 %.)

Several smaller parties formed this election season, mainly on the populist-left side of the aisle (though a Right-Green Party received 1.7%) and they began gathering and splitting with predictable regularity. For example, Dögun or “Dawn” received 3.1% but lost members to “Democracy Watch” (2.5%), “The Household Party (3.0%), and the “Pirate Party” (5.1%) with the latter winning 3 seats, in the 63 seat unicameral legislature. Yet, though making up almost 20% of votes cast, the total of left/reformist groups will not be reflected in any significant parliamentary power.  This now leaves the center-rightists, who already control the economy, to water down the newly created people´s constitution as they have openly pledged, and to further enrich their own small band of ship owners, bankers, and crony capitalists.

So, how did this happen?

Well, in what might look to outsiders as a decisive rejection of left-of-center ideas, the election yesterday demonstrates that when the left moves right, it will lose. Initially chosen by a populist uprising to turn the country´s catastrophic economy back on the right track (the “Pots and Pans Revolution”), the Social Democrats and Left-Greens began with fairly widespread support to prosecute the elite banksters who´d turned Iceland into a casino of speculation and wild spending. After a fitful start, some indictments were served and some easing of the burdens on working families appeared on the horizon, though taxes were raised. But former foes of EU membership in the Left-Greens began to quizzically tout joining the union as a direction the country should seek. This was already a policy of the Social Democrats and thus questionably, while in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the reformist coalition was busy pursuing EU membership—a questionable solution never supported by most Icelanders anyway. In addition, they were seen as bailing out banks while promising to investigate and prosecute wrongdoers, dragging their feet on mortgage relief, and giving support to the same big, nature destroying aluminum smelting projects the Independence Party has always favored. Raising the already sensitized hackles of average Icelanders who only wanted some debt relief and jobs, the foundation for the coalition´s decline was set.

Gradually, as the new government adopted austerity measures typically recommended by the IMF, their popularity began to drop and a low-key wistfulness for the good old days began returning, with the public souring on the new government weekly.  “They (the reformist governing coalition of Social Democrats and Left-Greens) ‘saved’ the economy by giving more bailouts to the banks instead of helping the average family” said one friend, active in “Democracy Watch”.  “They spent too much time  stupidly considering the EU over directly challenging the existing power structures” he continued. So, as soon as they saw this opening (the independent spirit of Icelanders being pricked by fears of foreign domination) the Independence Party then capitalized on the situation with their erstwhile junior partners jostling for position to reverse the traditional coalition pairing if they won. The Progressives hammered the airwaves and newspapers with promises to erase household debt. The die was cast and Icelanders, being willing to throw the latest bums out, again, did so with a vengeance, picking the only other available group of bums to right the very same wrongs they were initially responsible for. “It´s just like a mafia” my friend added, bleary-eyed after a night of election watching with fellow travelers, “Nothing´s going to change, except that the new Constitution will die and more people will leave the country. We´ve lost doctors and other professionals to Norway and this will continue” he added.

When I mentioned that Iceland appeared more like a “crony democracy” to another friend, he responded, in clever English, “this is not crony democracy, it´s phony democracy”.

The Progressives do share at least some slightly center-left ideas with the Social Democrats but the fear now is that, having firmly promised to give relief to homeowners struggling under mountainous debt, they too are doomed to fail. And if so, this may bring about yet another political collapse, possibly even more crushing than the last. “We are a stupid people”, said a friend, “we want to believe the Progressive Party will lead the coalition and deliver on their promises, but no one wants to admit that the numbers don´t add up and that this too, is going to end badly. The whole system is fucked.”

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, Buddhist priest 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    

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?