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On the results of Iceland’s presidential election

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:

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson Roman Abramovich

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.

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  • Bret July 1, 2012, 1:50 pm

    There’s a strong Nordic tradition of the crew putting an axe in the bad captain’s head and chucking him overboard. We’re a more civilized world, now, I guess, but sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off with a little bit more Viking behavior, heh. Particularly in the US. But I think the lesson here and elsewhere is that we’re doomed and there ain’t much we can do about it.

  • Thea Bella July 1, 2012, 6:53 pm

    And here I thought it was good news that Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was reelected president.

    Perhaps this was based on some of his earlier stances, in being opposed to the then corrupt power brokers, and presumably for Iceland and its people. I hope some of that still exists, but whenever a politician has the hubris to look to himself rather than what a collective society might do, hardly a good sign.

    Still, without exactly knowing, it seems for all its many troubles that Iceland in having very nearly melted down, and early on, may hopefully in some ways have it easier than much of Europe and this world. In part perhaps due its relative isolation and small size. The endemic troubles in Greece, Spain and elsewhere must give one pause.

    In any event, my very best wishes to Iceland and her people. With of course thanks to Alda for reappearing here, if briefly.

  • Rick Bragan Photograp[her July 1, 2012, 9:59 pm

    Sorry about the election. Seems same things are happening in your country as USA. My wife and I will be arriving July8,2012 at RKV. We hope to due some fotos of your great country

  • Daneel Olivaw (@d_olivaw) July 1, 2012, 11:11 pm

    “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.”

    Seems to be just another run of the mill politician

  • alda July 1, 2012, 11:23 pm

    Yes, only he is supposed to be above common politics.

  • Jessie July 2, 2012, 10:51 am

    Admittedly, I don’t know enough about the specifics of Óli or the other candidates, but it seems to me that the president’s power to put certain proposed laws to the public for a referendum is a mechanism of checks and balances, which means that s/he does have some political say and is not an entirely decorative office. If s/he were to believe that Parliament was overreaching on a certain issue, then s/he can step in and allow Icelanders to have a say. From what little I have gleaned, it seems to me that Óli would be more likely than Þóra to step in in this instance. This seems important right now, given that there are some pressing things to be addressed, such as the quota scheme and banking regulations.

  • idunn July 4, 2012, 12:50 am

    “Most of us who expose an inconvenient truth know that we will be attacked for it and ridiculed. And every trick in the book of maintaining power will be applied to silence us. It’s no big deal. The beauty of it is that, usually, these attempts gives us a chance to see the actual face of power and to understand, with real-time examples, how healthy or unhealthy our democracies have become.” [1]

    – Birgitta Jónsdóttir

    My apologies in advance, as this is somewhat off topic. Yet it very much has to do with Iceland, and indeed anyone with a Twitter account or desiring due online privacy.

    A New York judge recently ruled in the Unite States Government’s favor against the 4th Amendment rights of an American citizen. With the opinion that it could basically have access to any messages it wished in his Twitter account without a search warrant. This happens to be unconstitutional, but the US administration is presently not concerned with such niceties.

    Ms. Jónsdóttir has every reason to feel affronted. But as a foreign national, even if member of the Icelandic Parliament, to receive even less consideration. At the moment the prudent consideration insofar as online communications, if they can spy on you they will, and the triviality of any law be damned.

    As an aside, I wonder why Mr. Assange chose sanctuary in Uruguay versus Iceland, as my understanding Iceland determined to protect the rights of the press?

    1) ‘Evidence of a US judicial vendetta against WikiLeaks activists mounts,’ The Guardian
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/03/evidence-us-judicial-vendetta-wikileaks-activists-mounts

  • Knute Rife July 4, 2012, 2:05 am

    Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. Wait….

  • hildigunnur July 4, 2012, 9:11 am

    And now he’s started – right the day after the reelection he talks about not agreeing on the constitutional change – I suppose he’ll veto that law and probably get it voted out by the public. It’s even worse than I feared 🙁

  • alda July 4, 2012, 11:17 am

    @Iðunn – thanks for the input. Actually I believe it is in Ecuador that Julian Assange is seeking sanctuary. I, too, wondered why he chose to do that – my hunch is that he must have scoped out a few places and had a pretty good idea where he would be welcomed.

  • idunn July 4, 2012, 9:54 pm

    Uh, yes, Ecuador.

    Would there be an issue with Iceland being nominally aligned with the European Union, thus EU arrest warrants being applicable to Mr. Assange?