As some readers may know, Iceland has presidential elections coming up this weekend. There are six candidates in the running, one of them being the incumbent president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who has already been in office for four election terms, or 16 years. If he is elected, he will be the longest-serving president in Iceland’s history.
The Icelandic president is a figurehead – i.e. does not ostensibly have any direct political influence, save for the fact that s/he has the right to veto laws, thereby sending them to a national referendum. He or she can also dissolve parliament. However, the constitution also stipulates that government ministers are those who execute the power of the president, so the president’s power is more or less on paper.
Ólafur Ragnar, during his term in office, has been more political than any other president before him. He has vetoed laws three times, and indeed was the first president in the history of the republic ever to do so. Up until now, the president has basically let parliament get on with things, much as the queen of England [or any other monarchy] normally does not interfere with the running of the state. This has changed with Iceland’s current president, who has a result has been highly controversial – and one of the main determining factors in this election is whether people agree or disagree with this new direction the presidential office has been taking.
As I said, there six people running for office. Here they are, in alphabetical order, along with their main platforms. The poll I refer to at the end of each profile was conducted on June 21.
Andrea is primarily known in Iceland for having been the chairwoman of Hagsmunasamtök heimilanna [The Coalition of Home Owners], an interest group that has lobbied for the lowering of [primarily mortgage] debts in the wake of the economic meltdown. She has said that, if elected, she will concentrate on working in the interests of those same indebted homeowners, although how exactly she’ll do that is not clear. She has also said that she will only accept a minimum wage for her first two years in office, or until she has managed to push through the reforms she’s been fighting for. When it was pointed out to her that it’s not her call, i.e. the president of Iceland has a stipulated salary that is paid whether the person in office likes it or not, she said she would give the surplus to charity. Andrea has studied pedagogy and management at the university level. She was was born in 1972, has three children aged 2-12, and lives with her partner in Reykjavík. Andrea had a 1.6% following in the most recent poll.
Ari Trausti Guðmundsson
Ari Trausti is a geophysicist, writer and broadcaster, and is a fairly well-known personality in Iceland. He has said that, if elected, he will focus more on being active domestically rather than internationally. He also heavily emphasizes global warming issues and intends to use the presidential office to call attention to those. He also sees Iceland as being able to play a stronger role when it comes to issues of global warming, including being a model nation in the use of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. Ari Trausti was born in 1948. He is married and has three grown children and three grandchildren. Ari Trausti had a 10.5% following in the most recent poll.
Hannes basically came out of nowhere – at least by most people’s standards. He was not widely known in Iceland before he announced his candidacy, which is perhaps not strange since he lived in Norway for many years and indeed has a noticeable Norwegian accent. He has a degree in geography from the University of Iceland and has been doing a Master’s in management in Oslo, but has yet to finish his dissertation. Hannes is a personable candidate and seems to have a sincere agenda in wishing to do good for the Icelandic nation. His main emphasis is on unity and stronger ethics in Icelandic society, and on being a sort of “confidant of the people”. Hannes was born in 1971 and has four children. He lives with his partner in Reykjavík. Hannes had a 0.8% following in the most recent poll.
Herdís is a dynamic figure on the Icelandic cultural scene. She holds a PhD in law from Lund University in Sweden, and has worked as a professor and independent lawyer, primarily in the field of human rights. She has also been involved in international collaboration in the field of law, and is president of the European Women Lawyers’ Association. Prior to becoming a lawyer she was a magazine publisher and editor. Her main emphasis has been on the issue of human rights and how they come under threat from capitalist forces, and on fostering transparency and full disclosure in all her affairs, including financial contributions to her campaign. She is keen to stress that she has never been associated with any political party and can therefore work independently and honestly on behalf of the Icelandic people. Herdís was born in 1954 and has four children aged 15-25 that she has raised on her own since her divorce in 2001. Herdís had a 5.3% following in the most recent poll.
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
The incumbent president holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Manchester. He was elected president of Iceland in 1994 and has thus served four election terms, and is hoping for a fifth. As I wrote above, Ólafur Ragnar has moved the office of president from a largely symbolic post to a more politically-active force. He has had acrimonious relations with the political sector during his, um, reign – in particular two prime ministers, Davíð Oddsson and the current PM Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. Prior to being elected president Ólafur Ragnar was a professor of political science and the leader of the now-defunct Alþýðubandalagið, a left-leaning political party. He has been heavily criticized for his support and championing of the so-called útrásarvíkingar, or “outvasion Vikings” – the people who drove the Icelandic economy into the ground. To some of them he even awarded the Order of the Falcon – Iceland’s highest commemorative medal. In his New Year’s address to the nation, Ólafur Ragnar said that he would not be running for a fifth election term, although his wording left just a little bit of room for interpretation. His supporters grabbed this and ran with it, eventually delivering a petition allegedly signed by around 30,000 people, urging him to run anew [those signatures were collected online and never actually verified]. After a few days of “soul searching”, Ólafur Ragnar decided to run again on the grounds that the nation was going through times of turmoil, and needed a stabilizing force [i.e. him]. He added that, should he decide to abscond from his post halfway through the election term, he hoped the nation would indulge him. Now, with the election campaign in full swing and five other candidates running against him, Ólafur Ragnar has done what he can to minimize that statement and has indeed lashed out at those who question him about this proposed intention to quit halfway through the term, claiming he never actually said that exactly [despite the statement still existing on presidential letterhead]. Ólafur Ragnar was born in 1943 and is married to Dorrit Moussaieff, an Israeli-born jewellery dealer and designer. His previous wife, Guðrún Katrín Þorbergsdóttir, died of leukemia two years into his first election term. He has two grown daughters and several grandchildren. Ólafur Ragnar had a 45% following in the most recent poll.
Þóra is the candidate considered most likely to de-throne the incumbent president. She is a broadcaster and journalist, and has an MA in international relations and development studies from Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC. By virtue of her media career Þóra is a well-known personality in Iceland, and enjoys widespread support. Her main emphasis is on uniting the country after the deep division and dissolution of the last few years, and on leading the nation forward, rather than focusing on the baggage of the past. What has made Þóra’s campaign unusual is that she was eight months’ pregnant when she announced her candidacy and gave birth to a daughter in early May. Her critics say that she cannot possibly carry on the duties of a president under these conditions, and fume that she will probably take her maternity leave as soon as she takes office, if she is elected. Þóra herself has said that she will not, in fact, take maternity leave – or, more precisely, that her maternity leave is being devoted to the campaign, and she will be ready to take office on 1 August. Þóra’s campaign has been heavily compared to that of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who was elected president in 1980 and was the first democratically-elected female head of state in the world. Vigdís was a single mother who had moreover battled breast cancer, and her critics ranted that she could not possibly fulfill her duties without a partner, yet she was an enormously successful president and held office for 16 years. Þóra’s campaign has had a strongly feminist slant, in that she has emphasized that a woman should be able to take part in the labour market and perform any kind of job despite being a mother. She has said that her partner will stay home and look after the children if she is elected. At 37 years old, Þóra is the youngest of the candidates. She and her partner have three children aged one month to seven years, and her partner has three teenaged daughters from a previous relationship. Þóra had a 37% following in the most recent poll.
So that’s the bare bones. If I have a chance later this week I shall elaborate a little more on the
mud-slinging various complexities of the presidential campaign, which I must say is gearing up to be pretty exciting. And of course I’ll also be posting details on our Facebook page.