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The undisputed winners of Saturday's snap elections were two new populist parties, backed by the Talk Radio station Útvarp Saga. The People's Party received 6.9% of the vote and 4 MPs, while the Centrist Party, led by former PM Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson received 10.8% and 7MPs. The victories of the two populist parties came at the expense of the governing conservative led coalition, which lost 12 MPs. The Political opposition, led by the Left Greens did significantly worse than polls had suggested, adding only one MP.
Political commentators agree that forming a new stable coalition government represents a major challenge to the party leaders.
Several notable changes:
A new coalition government
Now that the results are in the next task awaiting the chairmen of the parties is the formation of a new ruling coalition. The conservative led center-right coalition was crushed on Saturday. Dogged by scandals the Independence Party lost five MPs, coming in with 25.2 of the vote for it's second worst election outcome in its history. The worst outcome for the party came in 2009 following the 2008 crash. The two junior partners also did poorly. The centrist Bright Future was wiped out, losing all of it's 4 MPs and the liberal Restoration lost 3 MPs.
This did not stop the chairman of the conservative party, Bjarni Benediktsson, from proclaiming on Sunday that the mandate to form a new coalition government should go to him. Bjarni argued that as the leader of the largest party in parliament he should be given first chance to form a workable parliamentary majority.
A populist-right wing coalition
To form a majority Bjarni would have to secure the support of at least 32 MPs. Since the Independence party currently has 16 MPS this means Bjarni would need to find the support of an additional 16 MPs. The easiest way to achieve this is to secure the support of the two Populist parties the People's Party (4 MPs) and Center Party (7 MPs) as well as the centrist Progress Party (8 MPs). Talk Radio Station Útvarp Saga has already declared its support for this coalition, branding it a "dream government" for the people of Iceland.
Most political commentators agree this is probably an unlikely outcome, as the chairmen of the Center Party and Progress Party are not on the best of terms after Sigmundur Davíð was forced out as chairman of the Progress party following the revelations of the Panama Papers and Sigmundur's decision to form his own party, taking a number of high ranking Progress Party operatives and MPs with him.
If the Progress Party is unwilling to work with the Center Party in government coalition led by the Independence Party Bjarni Benediktsson will find it next to impossible to assemble a majority in Parliament. Other coalition options for the conservatives require the support of one of the leftist parties, the Left Greens, Social Democratic Alliance or Pirate Party, all of which have declared they will not work with the conservatives.
A broad center left coalition
The other option for a coalition government is a broad center-left coalition led by the second largest party in parliament, the Left Green Movement. The political left made modest gains in Saturday's election, as the Left Greens added one MP for their second pest outcome in the party's history. With 16.9% of the vote the party fell woefully short of the 20-30% pre election polls.
The fact that the Social Democrats gained four seats, while the Pirate party lost 4 can also be seen as elections also showed a shift to the left within. The three leftist parties only have 24 MPs between them. Political commentators have argued that the likeliest path to a majority for the Left Greens would be to include the Progress Party and the liberal Restoration, creating a broad center-left majority with 36 MPs.
What will happen next?
Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the President of Iceland, meets the party leaders on Monday to gauge their willingness to work with one another. Only after the President has met all party leaders will he grant one of them an official mandate to form a government. Both Bjarni Benediktsson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir said after their meetings with Guðni that they wanted the President to hold off on granting anyone a formal mandate "until the dust has settled", as Bjarni put it at a press conference.
The two chairmen are now in a race with one another to secure the support of the Progress Party, which makes Sigurður Ingi Jóhannesson the man of the hour and the unlikely victor of the elections.
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