Iceland's coalition government set to retain power after election

September 27, 2021
Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir
Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir

REYKJAVIK — Iceland’s coalition government appeared likely to continue after voters rallied around the political center in a volatile parliamentary election. Polls had suggested a victory for left-leaning parties in the unpredictable election, which saw 10 parties competing for the Althing’s 63 seats.

Instead, the center-right Independence Party took the largest share of votes, and there were big gains for the centrist Progressive Party. Before the election, the two parties formed Iceland’s three-party coalition government, together with the Left-Green Party led by Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir. Her party lost several seats but outscored poll predictions.

The ruling parties won 37 seats altogether, gaining two from the last election. The three parties haven't announced whether they will work together for another term, but given the strong support among voters, it appears likely.

Climate change had ranked high on the election agenda in Iceland, a glacier-studded volcanic island nation of about 350,000 people in the North Atlantic. An exceptionally warm summer by Icelandic standards — with 59 days of temperatures above 20°C — and shrinking glaciers have helped drive global warming up the political agenda.

But that didn't appear to have translated into increased support for any of the four left-leaning parties that campaigned to cut carbon emissions by more than Iceland is committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement.

When results came out, the country celebrated electing a female-majority parliament but the party was short-lived.

A recount in western Iceland saw the number of seats occupied by women reduced to 30 from 33 — a tally previously reached at Iceland's second most recent election, in 2016.

Still, at almost 48% of the total, that is the highest percentage for women lawmakers in Europe.

According to data compiled by the World Bank, no country in Europe had ever passed the symbolic 50% mark. Sweden had come the closest with 47% female MPs.

Iceland briefly believed it had made history by electing Europe's first female-majority parliament — before a recount showed it had just fallen short. No European country has breached the 50% threshold, with Sweden coming closest at 47%, according to data from the Inter Parliamentary Union.

The results mean a further six women have been elected to Iceland's parliament, but men still hold a majority of seats. Unlike some other countries, Iceland does not have legal quotas on female representation in parliament, though some parties do require a minimum number of candidates be women.

Initially, the apparent female-majority in parliament was hailed as a landmark achievement.

"In a historical and international light, the most significant news is that women are now first time in majority in the Icelandic parliament, and a first in Europe. This is good news," President Gudni Johannesson told broadcaster RUV before the recount.

Iceland has long been considered a leader in gender equality and was ranked the most gender-equal nation in the world for the 12th year running in a World Economic Forum report released in March.

It offers the same parental leave to both men and women, and its first law on equal pay for men and women dates back to 1961. It was also the first country in the world to elect a female president in 1980.

Just five countries currently have parliaments where women hold at least half the seats. Rwanda leads the way, with women making up 61.3% of the members of its lower house.

It is followed by Cuba on 53.4%, Nicaragua on 50.6% and Mexico and the United Arab Emirates at 50%. Women make up just 34.2% of the members of the United Kingdom's House of Commons and just 27.6% of the House of Representatives in the United States. — Euronews/BBC

September 27, 2021
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