So the outcome of yesterday’s presidential election is now clear. Incumbent President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson came out on top with nearly 53% of the votes. Þóra Arnórsdóttir, his closest competitor, received just over 33%. Voter turnout was 69%.
I am disappointed. Very. Back in 2009, after the Kitchenware Revolution and the subsequent collapse of the old government, we were high on the idea of a “new Iceland” with more transparency and less corruption. Eva Joly had joined forces with the new government, the whole sordid mess of the economic meltdown would be investigated, and the banksters and the rest of those who had driven the nation to the brink of bankruptcy would be held accountable. Iceland would rise from the ashes and become a more fair and just society, a place with new opportunities and less oppression. Or so we thought.
To me, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson represents so much of what was wrong with Iceland prior to the meltdown. He was a champion of those who drove the country into the ground. He awarded the Order of the Falcon – Iceland’s highest medal – to some of the banksters. He wrote letters of recommendation for the “Viking raiders” who used them to open doors abroad in their looting and pillaging ventures. He hung out with Russian oligarchs and flew on their private jets to football matches in the UK. Here he is with Roman Abramovich and a few other pals:
And here with a good portion of the 30 people or so who were responsible for the economic meltdown:
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was elected president of Iceland in 1996. At that time, he was strongly opposed by the governing forces in this country – members of the Independence and Progressive parties, who had previously been his opponents in politics. As many people know, the IP and PP were in power in the years leading up to the economic collapse, were responsible for the privatization of the banks and the monstrosity that is the Kárahnjúkavirkjun dam in East Iceland [built at the behest of US aluminum giant Alcoa], and laid the foundation for the meltdown.
It is telling that the demographic that now supports Ólafur Ragnar has switched completely. Today, the majority of Ólafur Ragnar’s supporters come from within the Independence and Progressive parties. His supporters also typically have less education than those who oppose him. This is a complete turnaround from his supporters in the beginning.
A great majority of those who voted for him yesterday see him as the only presidential candidate with the guts to stand up to the government. This is a manifestation of the deep distrust the Icelanders have in their political system and institutions after the meltdown. The office of the president is designed to be apolitial – much like monarchies are today in Western societies. Ólafur Ragnar, however, partly through his vetoes of three laws during his time in office, has made the presidency far more political than it ever was. Some say he has made it into a whole new political force in Iceland. He is an old politician – and he can’t seem to let that go.
Above and beyond all this, it is Ólafur Ragnar’s conduct, particularly over the last few months, that has caused a great many of us to feel a deep antipathy towards him. It is not possible to get into all the details in this small space; suffice it to say that he has demonstrated extreme arrogance and condescension towards the voting public. He has suggested that he is the only person who can possibly guide this nation through the “turmoil” that lies ahead [the constitutional change and potential European Union accession], and that it is a heavy burden to bear – but that somebody has to bear it [you can almost hear him sigh]. In true martyr fashion he even reminded us that he would, in effect, be “working for free” for this nation – because he has already reached retirement age. When he decided to run, he also said he hoped “the nation would understand” if he decided to serve for only two years [i.e. half the term] before moving on – in his estimation, clearly, that was the time needed to guide the nation through the aforementioned “turmoil”. Since then, he has repeatedly been called on to explain or elaborate on those words … yet he now claims he was misinterpreted [hard to do – it’s all there, black-on-white, on presidential letterhead]. In some instances he has even unleashed a torrent of patronizing verbal assaults against those who dared question him on this.
On more than one occasion he has said one thing, and done another. And when questioned, he has refused to answer, or claimed he was being misrepresented.
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has also refused to implement a code of ethics for the president’s office, even though for some time now he has been called on to do so.
I could go on. And on.
At the end of the day, though, and looking on the bright side … Ólafur Ragnar is not a dictator. He doesn’t have people executed, a la Mubarak, Gaddafi, al-Assad and the rest. We have it good here. We live in a democracy. Plus, his wife is pretty entertaining.
And we also know that this term – the next four years – will be his last. Unless he changes his mind.