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Social Democrats and Left-Greens entrusted with forming a government

So Prez Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson summoned Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, head of the SDs, and Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, head of the LGs, to a meeting this morning, in which he entrusted them with the task of forming an interim minority government with the support of the Progressive Party. According to the president there is a possibility of one or two individuals from outside parliament taking a seat in the new government.

Ingibjörg Sólrún told mbl.is that she and Steingrímur would now start work on putting together a strong government that could be running the country by next weekend.

According to Fréttablaðið this morning there seems to be unanimous agreement for Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, minister of social affairs and social security, to head up the government. All the parties involved state that their primary emphasis will be on measures to help Icelandic families and households. The Progressive Party has also stipulated that it will support the new minority on the condition that the Central Bank’s governors and board are dismissed and replaced with new and able individuals.

~ A few people have wondered about the mood in this country since yesterday. I would say that the prevailing mood is one of apprehension – not of pure jubilation, as one might expect. Most people are wary – even though many MANY of us are hugely relieved to be rid of the Independence Party, it still remains to be seen what the others can and will do. For me, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is an unwritten page in terms of being an interim PM. There have been a few snide comments on this site and elsewhere about her CV, her former job as a “stewardess” and so on, which I think is completely unfair. She is a powerful politician, a clear-thinking and righteous individual who has shown that she gets things done. Her current popularity among the Icelandic population does not spring from nowhere – throughout the years she has demonstrated a rare integrity in her political work and since the bank collapse she is the only minister who has seemed to be getting anything done – working on behalf of the “little people”.

At any rate, I expect Davíd Oddsson and his clan in the Central Bank are clearing out their desks as we speak. My preferred candidate to head the Central Bank: Thorvaldur Gylfason. Fingers crossed.

IN OTHER NEWS
I just wanted to quickly draw attention, for those English-speakers living in Iceland [and Icelanders too, obviously], to a lecture today at 5 pm given by senior BBC correspondent Brian Hanrahan entitled “The Power of the Media in Times of Change”. It is the inaugural event of a new Icelandic branch of an association called the English Speaking Union, the purpose of which is to “create international understanding and friendship through the use of the English language”. [The ESU has operated internationally since 1918.] The lecture, which is FREE, is held at the Bratti Lecture Theatre, School of Education, University of Iceland [it’s the old Kennaraháskóli, i.e. not on the actual U of I campus] and the entrance is from Hátegsvegur. There will be drinks and refreshments afterwards. I’ll be there, so if you do show up, come over and say hi.

WEATHER!
Colder today than it has been recently. There is a thin layer of snow on the ground, which is delightful because it brightens everything and God knows we need that! Right now 1°C [34F], sunrise was at 10.22, sunset due for 4.59.

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  • Cassie January 27, 2009, 1:35 pm

    While it can’t be said that all change is good, it does sound like a change in this direction has the probability of positive new beginnings. I do hope so, for Iceland’s sake. I hope the uncertainty and insanity of the past few months are on the way to changing into some measure of stability. I hope some cautious optimism isn’t unwarranted.

  • Chris January 27, 2009, 1:47 pm

    Great news. Things are moving. Lets hope, they get better.

  • Rachael January 27, 2009, 2:37 pm

    Of course you can’t expect things to change overnight, and times will still be hard. But change for the better and the optimism that comes with it can make a situation seem much less desperate. I will keep my fingers crossed for you. I hope in time you will have a government you can leave to get on with the job properly!

  • ino January 27, 2009, 3:03 pm

    althought i think it is great that you will have a new government and think that it is truely awesome that this came about through protests, i am not convinced that iceland will get the change it needs. and the fact that Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir will get the post of pm is the first sign that maybe not all that much will change. she may be a very good minister of social affairs, she can be very popular with the people and she may have been very outspoken in this time of crisis, but she is just not the right person at the right time. iceland will need to completely restructure its central bank, its fsa and its banking sector. this is a job i think would be best handled by somebody who spend at least four years in univeristy studying this stuff and walked away with some sort of degree that shows some competence in this field. how hard can it be to find that person? even if they have not been an active member of the party for the last 20 years! and even if they are not as popular with the voters due to lack of eloquence (even though that seems always to be very important to icelanders)….
    there is a social law that says that people will get promoted to the point where they are slightly out of their league. from what i have seen of icelandic politics over the last decade, that seems very true. the rule seems to be that if you stick with a party long enough eventually you will get that promotion that was a bridge too far. and i think that in Jóhanna Sigurðardóttirs case, that time may have come. or maybe not, i could be wrong. but as a bankrupt nation looking into the abyss, i would not want to take the gamble!

    anyways, there are elections in a few months and i hope to see a lot of new names and parties on the ballots, as the people in power today are as guilty to what happened as the ip (i bet jon asgeir has Jóhanna Sigurðardóttirs mobile number on speed dail already)

  • Karen January 27, 2009, 3:13 pm

    An aside, perhaps, but thank you for always using all of the special characters when you’re writing Icelandic words.

    I’ve noticed that the IR website uses some of them, but not all of them, and it’s ….. annoying and confusing….. when I have just enough awareness to know that an ð should be there but it isn’t.

  • JoeInVegas January 27, 2009, 3:58 pm

    Congratulations, it looks like the protests finally resulted in something!

  • Ljósmynd DE January 27, 2009, 4:33 pm

    I’m somehow surprised to find Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir questioned just because of her CV. I think, at certain times social competence and soft skills can’t be overestimated. With competent experts at hand this might be a first step towards change.

  • James January 27, 2009, 5:13 pm

    Stand by for media headlines around the world announcing the world’s first openly gay prime minister. America has Obama, Iceland has Sigurdardottir, but Britain still has Brown 🙁

    BTW, but I saw this nice interview on yesterday’s lunchtime TV about Icelanders donating Icelandic woolies for British pensioners:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/the_daily_politics/7851365.stm

  • Sólveig January 27, 2009, 5:16 pm

    I have a lot of hope that Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir will be able to get things done.

    And I must admit that I don’t care about her CV. It is FAR from being a prerequisite for being in politics to have actually studied economics or political science in university. I just graduated with a degree in political science and let me tell you, it is NOT a training camp for politicians in the making, as much as people outside academia seem to think. The same goes for economics. This is what ADVISERS are for. Politicians don’t do things on their own, there are bureaucracies in place with (hopefully) a lot of expertise in their particular fields. The politicians would say “can we do this” and the bureaucrats would say “yes, that would mean x y and z” and then politicians choose between alternatives.

    There have been a lot of ministers and parliament members throughout history both in Iceland and abroad who are either truck drivers, doctors, stewardesses, or something else, that are not elite educated in a few select disciplines. And this is a good thing. At least in Iceland, getting into politics should be open to everyone, regardless of their class or education.

    That does not mean that the central bank governor should be without economics education… but that’s because that’s not a political position, but a technical one.

    That being said, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and I see the point that a technocrat might be a good choice for otherwise political positions at the moment, which Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir does not fulfill.

  • jpeeps January 27, 2009, 5:16 pm

    Over at Matthew Yglesias – http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2009/01/resigning_in_iceland.php I was surprised to read a comment that Icelanders’ support for joining the EU has plummeted over the last few weeks – if so is there any particular reason for this?

    Also it’s so cool that you have to read an non-Icelandic blog to find out that your new PM is gay, like no one in Iceland gives a monkey’s … great news though! (Sorry if this should be in a forum rather than here.)

  • Jessica January 27, 2009, 5:20 pm

    For anyone else utterly confused by all of Iceland’s political parties and coalitions there is a good summary of the parties, ideologies, and leaders (~at least up until yesterday) found at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_Iceland. Of course, I know Wikipedia information is to be used lightly!

  • SchrodingersCat January 27, 2009, 6:09 pm

    From Wikipedia:

    The Peter Principle is the principle that “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.” While formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1968 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise which also introduced the “salutary science of Hierarchiology”, “inadvertently founded” by Peter, the principle has real validity. It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain. Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”.

    Icelandic government in a nutshell.

  • Björk January 27, 2009, 6:28 pm

    I’m Icelandic and have lived here all my live – 35 years – I can’t remember politics without Johanna being a part of them and I have to admit I had no idea she was gay!! Not that would have made any difference in my opinion of her – I think she will make a great PM. One of the few people in politics that you feel like actually cares about what she’s doing instead of how things are going to look like on his or her political CV

    @Jpeeps: most people don’t give a damn if someone is gay or not – obviously we have our share of religious people who want to de-gay people and what not.. but a huge majority of Icelanders don’t give a flying fig and most of the time this subject doesn’t even come up.

    I knew someone a few years ago for over a year before I realised that they were jewish… and that was only because of a conversation about “aðventuljós” (advent lights) which are very popular in Iceland around christmas but are in fact a jewish custom.

    Sexual orientation and religion.. couldn’t care less…

  • The Other Katherine Harris January 27, 2009, 7:20 pm

    My congratulations and admiration to all the Icelanders who took to the winter streets to make this happen!

    Now I hope your new government will share the people’s gumption and stand up to the evil IMF, before further damage is done to local business, education, health care and the environment. A corporate sell-off is never the right answer. Recent history is littered with examples.

  • Lissa January 27, 2009, 8:33 pm

    After the wonderful stewardess on Icelandair the last time I flew it (Margaret moved me away from two very drunk and obnoxious American kids, without me asking, bless her!), I’ll be the last person to dis the skills of a stewardess. Observation, the ability to act in a crisis and good soft skills might be, as Ljósmynd DE said, very useful.

    Johanna is gay? It shouldn’t matter, but that makes me very happy. It makes me happier that it seems to be a non-issue in Iceland.

  • alda January 27, 2009, 10:46 pm

    Thanks so much for the input, everyone!

    I completely agree with everyone who has touted soft skills and social competence as assets, and pointed out the obvious: that PMs have advisers. I am still of the opinion that Jóhanna is an unwritten page – and I have much more faith that the ministers in this government now taking office have the humility and plain sense to seek advice from competent professionals than the rigid and arrogant IP politicians.

    And the fact that she is gay is a non-issue here (although I have just had this conversation with a friend – I suppose it IS an issue now that she is becoming PM since she then becomes the first openly gay PM in the world). I had vaguely heard this before, but only when I clicked on her profile at the ministry did I see that she was openly gay. Moreover I do believe that the reason it is a non-issue is that her work and performance overshadow her personal life, which is the way it should be.

    To me the fact that she is openly gay is important only in that it demonstrates that she is a person of integrity who “comes to the door the way she is dressed” as the Icelandic idiom says. What you see is what you get with Jóhanna, and that is why people trust her.

  • James January 28, 2009, 12:46 am

    I expect Davíd Oddsson and his clan in the Central Bank are clearing out their desks as we speak
    Grimsson told the BBC today that “it is absolutely clear that one of the pillars of the new programme will be a change in the leadership of the central bank”. And Oddsson was spotted setting his email’s out-of-office autoreply, changing his voicemail message, and updating his CV in Word……

  • Andrew January 28, 2009, 12:51 am

    Interesting article here. I think you can all guess who it is about!!

    “Is this the most hated man in Iceland?”

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/world_agenda/article5598209.ece

  • GB January 28, 2009, 1:49 am

    Here, to provide Icelanders some real-world perspective, are a couple of stories from the real world, of real revolutions, told in real perspective, without the glorifications and chronological truncations usual in histories. But he too real aspects, the murders, the mayhem, the sufferings and starvations of the everyday peoples, normal in the real world, are glossed to not overwhelm people not calloused by living in places those are everyday.
    The first is the story of the French Revolution. It was a product of a financial meltdown. The meltdown occurred after Louis XV ran up huge debts maintaining corruptions and wars, which he financed with an expanding bubble of borrowing. The bubble burst on Louis XVI. He struggled to resolve the crisis peacefully, but unrest erupted to violence, as has occurred in the present in Iceland, but then, France being in the real world, the violence grew. It became more violent in wave after wave. Each wave escalated the violence from the level of the one before. In each of wave the more moderate of the wave before were guillotined, with lots of others. Many also starved, many were randomly murdered. There was a lot of terror, not much order. Ultimately Napoleon Bonaparte established order. He did so by making himself a military dictator, then Emperor. There was 10 years of Terror before Napoleon. Then there were 15 years of the Napoleonic era. In those there was war. The war exported the terror out from France to other nations. The French Republic, which glorifying and glossing histories pretend to have occurred in 1789, springing full-formed from the head of Danton, oops, Robespierre, oops, Marat, Napoleon? No, none of the above, did not appear until after another 15 years. After Napoleon was deposed, deposed again, after the monarchy was restored. The French Republic was finally formed when Charles X was deposed in the July Revolution of 1830. That revolution was a bourgeois revolution. It compassed two days. What are called histories gloss and glorify, and truncate by ignoring the 40 years of suffering and slaughtering, wholesale guillotining and military murdering. For the best record of the last, see Goya.
    A second example is provided by German history from 1921 to 1947. Vindictive stupidity by the Allies after “The Great War” precipitated an economic collapse in Germany, one something like that in Iceland, except more severe. The stupidity also made resolution, and therefore recovery, more difficult. Insecurity and starvation ensued, anger escalated to violence and the violence escalated. The escalation of violence put Adolph Hitler into government, then into power and then absolute power. The violence continued until 1945, when the Allies were victorious again. Republican government did not arrive in Germany until after the winter of 1945-1946 killed as many Germans as the war had, but mostly very young and very old ones. Then some of the more intelligent among the Allies recognized the renewal of vindictiveness was going to produce unsatisfactory results and changed tactics. That revolution, of words, between vindictive and non-vindictive Allies, like the French July Revolution of 1830, was quickly done, with pragmatism winning. Return to peace from eruption of violence, in the German instance, took only 25 years, instead of 40. I don’t think anyone tallied how many died of various revolution related causes in each example, but both taking place in the real world, there were plenty in each.
    What is completely glossed in all the glorious histories of both is that the desired result, restoration of peace, and, in each case, the establishment of a republican government, was achieved after the mayhem, the dictatorships and the wars, by rational, not violent, means.
    Can Iceland cut out the interim? Fast-forward to the one or two day resolution revolution? Do without the dictator? Achieve an Arcadian revolution, an evolution, without the violence, mayhem, murder, malnutrition, vindictiveness, the madness that leads to enthusiasm for pleasure in slaughter? Can the violence that expressions of dissatisfaction in the real world can’t seem to get on without be confined to a few anarchist wannabes huffing and puffing and then fizzling, their inflammatory efforts perhaps put out with ” orange-juice”? We await with interest to see…

  • Flygill January 28, 2009, 2:45 am

    Thorvaldur Gylfason may not be the right person for the job. Too “old school”, he seems to have formed his world view in the 70s and is stuck there. Probably someone who “knows the enemy” — the IMF and international bankers — would be better. TG would be a better senior adviser, or one of the three on the board.

  • llewellyn January 28, 2009, 6:55 am

    re: GB

    Well, not to glorify revolutions, I would say that life under the ancien regime in itself was a slow holocaust for the majority of the French nation. Eventually in such conditions there will be hatred and distruction if there are no serious reforms towards more humane structures and values. Often the reaction will be totally irrational, often leading to bloody cul-de-sacs. This we have seen in Russia and China as well. As far as Weimar is concerned, I don’t really know if that qualifies as a revolution as such. In any case, Iceland seems to resemble more the “singing revolution” of Estonia for example – no blood shed there either and an excellent end result.

  • Dave Hambidge January 28, 2009, 7:49 am

    OMG. Miss a couple of days blog posts and the whole country changes!

    Thanks to Alda for keeping us up to date, the BBC has been very quiet on these seismic changes happening in Iceland.

    Congrats on the piece in the Guardian, and I hope they paid in an acceptable currency.

    I shoud imagine Brian Hanrahan was worth listening to?

    And, finally, back to a question I raised last week, then tongue in cheek, now in all seriousness. Are you going to stand as a candidate in the elections Alda?

    dave

  • Gray, Germany January 28, 2009, 8:50 am

    If Sigurðardóttir will base her politics on expert advice instead of ideology, I don’t see why she shouldn’t be successful. Just like after the bank crash, when the crazy bank managers were fired and a female team was put in their position, this may be a smart move. What’s necessary in this dire situation are people with communication skills and an understanding for the need for compromises, NOT machismo and self-importance. I’m sure foreign governments would react very positively to a new prime minister, who will actually listen to proposals and engage in reasonable solutions, not wishful thinking. This may help Iceland in getting more sport for the outside. Really, an encouranging change, that makes the future look in a much brighter light!

  • Gray, Germany January 28, 2009, 8:51 am

    Uh, “sport for”? Hmm, sry, pls read “support from”!
    |-(

  • Dave Hambidge January 28, 2009, 9:15 am

    Although not specifically about Iceland, which does get a worthy mention, this article in UK Daily Telegraph newspaper, a right of centre political view, is interesting;

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/4363750/Europes-winter-of-discontent.html

    Enjoy!

    dave

  • Ljósmynd DE January 28, 2009, 10:28 am

    Due to the recent events Iceland seems to have caught the attention of the foreign (i.e. German) press again after some months in the shadow. Yesterday we had an one hour feature in our local radio pondering the question, if Iceland might be seen as a model for europe with regard to insolvency.

    Seeing the protests spread over the continent, Iceland doesn’t have to feel so lonely any more. Maybe, you are just some steps ahead.

  • alda January 28, 2009, 10:36 am

    Thanks, everyone!

    Andrew – I had the pleasure of meeting the delightful Mr Boyes last night (hi Roger!) and we have another meeting scheduled. I hadn’t seen the article, but only heard about it. Thanks for the link.

    Dave – er… NO. But glad you have such faith in me.
    And yes, Brian Hanrahan was delightful. We spoke at some length at a dinner party afterwards. 🙂

    Gray – I prefer “sport for” actually.

  • David January 28, 2009, 11:40 am

    When you mentioned that you were sure that Doddsson and his cronies were probably clearing out their desks as these new events unfold, I couldn’t help but think of this clip that many of us have probably seen already. 🙂

  • David January 28, 2009, 11:42 am

    Here is the clip as the link above doesn’t seem to work:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pYT8mQdJ5A

  • colin buchanan January 28, 2009, 12:44 pm

    Alda’s question mark about what the new lot will do is to the point. But the movement on the ground has to start working out for itself what has to be done i.e. putting forward its own programme of action, if it hasn’t already done so. It has shown it has the power to force elections and remove one or two people, but eventually, as in similar processes in South America, the movement has to sharpen its appreciation of what is necessary and find the leaders to put it into practice. This process might involve working through several layers of “the political class”.

    The recognition of a “rogue element” within the system, as Iris Erlingsdottir’s article
    http://inthesenewtimes.com/2009/01/27/whats-next-for-iceland-ensuring-a-fair-election-in-may/
    is one central focus for this programme.
    The need to reconstruct a real economy i.e. one based on creating the goods and services which people need, not a fictitious bubble, and putting in place a financial system that will nurture it, is another.
    Then there is the geopolitical question: NATO or West Eurasia. This also concerns the question of the Euro as well as bypassing the IMF, avoiding its destructive strictures, and seeking support elsewhere.
    Can anyone enlighten me on what Voices of the People has put forward so far in terms of a political programme?

  • Ljósmynd DE January 28, 2009, 1:13 pm

    I can’t really imagine, that Iceland is about to repay its debt in an equivalent of whale meat. So, the increase of whaling quotas by the notforlong minister of fishery sounds incredibly insensitive and obstructive:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7854705.stm

  • Lissa January 28, 2009, 3:55 pm

    The English edition of Al Jazeera online has actually had a few decent articles on the fall of the government. The most recent is <a href=”http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2009/01/2009127111220117966.html”Coalition talks begin in Iceland .

  • James January 28, 2009, 10:11 pm

    They are rioting again this evening (pepper sprays, arrests, etc), but this time over NATO membership. I don’t know of any other countries rioting against this, so Iceland seems off the revolutionometer scale right now. Expect more riots if the Icelandic entry fails to make the final of the Eurovision Song Contest…

  • alda January 28, 2009, 11:40 pm

    Heheheh. Touché!

  • portkins January 29, 2009, 2:25 am

    Someone commented “For me, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is an unwritten page in terms of being an interim PM. There have been a few snide comments on this site and elsewhere about her CV, her former job as a “stewardess” and so on, which I think is completely unfair. She is a powerful politician, a clear-thinking and righteous individual who has shown that she gets things done. ”

    It should be pretty clear in the year 2009 that ANY politician with years of experience is A POLITICIAN. They may play the outsider but they are an insider. Politicians once in power play the game to stay in power.
    Don’t be fooled that she is different than others.
    They are all corrupt in some way. That is the definition of politician.

  • colin buchanan January 29, 2009, 9:56 am

    Rioting over NATO membership! This sounds too good to be true. Your sources James?

  • colin buchanan January 29, 2009, 10:07 am

    La voila!

    http://inthesenewtimes.com/2009/01/29/iceland-police-arrest-six-at-nato-meeting-protest/

    Iceland out of NATO, Iceland into Europe!

    Save the people not the banksters!

    Protect the real economy and real livelihoods from the IMF banksters!