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The Independence Party and its spectacular free-fall

We’ve got elections coming up here in Iceland, and consequently there is a lot of activity in the political arena. Amazingly we’re also seeing some monumental changes – things that most people had not even dreamed of.

bjarniben_5Last night was one such happening. RÚV [Icelandic National Broadcaster] is the main election coverage medium and they’re conducting a series of interviews with the heads of all the political movements in the running [13 in all – or is it 14? I’ve lost count]. Last night it was the turn of Bjarni Benediktsson, head of the Independence Party.

A bit of context. For years the IP basically OWNED Iceland. It was also the party that ran this country into the ground in the lead-up to the economic meltdown. Last elections, four years ago, was the first time they’d lost in 18 years and they got their lowest following ever [unsurprisingly]. With the unpopularity of the present government their support had been growing again, and they were pretty confident about winning the elections. But then a few weeks ago they held their annual congress and if you follow my Facebook page you’ll remember that one of their propositions was to have Christian values guide all their policy-making. There was an outcry [mainly of ridicule, but nevermind] and they hastily withdrew that proposition.

Since then, their following has plummeted. They’ve gone from a smug assurance of victory to full-fledged panic. There has been talk of the party leader being made to resign, as he is evidently the problem [NOT]. [I mean, he’s a problem, but not their only problem.] Yesterday an opinion poll was published in which it transpired that a lot of the people who have defected from the IP to the Progressive Party [which looks like it will win a landslide victory – a chapter unto itself] would have stayed with the IP if one Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, who has been pegged as a possible leader, had taken over at the last congress. However, experts and pundits have said that it would be political suicide to change leaders so close to the election. As the Icelanders so prosaically put it: “You don’t change horses in the middle of the river.”

Anyway, back to the interview last night. Everyone sort of expected that he would stoically sit there and blather about how there were still two weeks to go and they would have time to win back their people etc. and he would not resign and yadayada. BUT NO. He said he was considering resigning.

This clearly threw the reporters for a major loop – they didn’t know WHAT to do [and said so] since obviously they were there to ask him about his party’s policies, but he effectively said he was bowing to pressure and was on his way out. In other words, admitting weakness, and even showing a touch of humility. And if there’s one thing the IP never does, it is admit weakness. To say nothing of humility.

So. The word on the street is that he cannot return to the election campaign after that announcement. [The word on the street is also that Bjarni Ben is a puppet, and that the powers-that-be in the IP, most notably one Davíð Oddsson, pull all the strings.] Today, therefore, we await to see what happens within the IP, formerly the most powerful party in Iceland, today still a force to be reckoned with, although … well, we shall see.

UPDATE 17.04. Well, Bjarni Benediktsson did not end up resigning. Instead he received an immense amount of sympathy in the two days following his TV appearance, and when he announced his intention to stay on as party leader at a campaign rally he received thunderous applause. Most pundits now seem to agree that this was carefully-orchestrated spin to gather sympathy and support for the party and its leader – a gamble that seems to have paid off since they’d gained a couple of percentage points in the polls just four days later.

[photo credit]

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