(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER)
Iceland’s president has asked the leader of the Left-Green Movement, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, to form a new government, although it came second in Saturday’s snap general election.
The mandate deals a blow to the prime minister, Bjarni Benediktsson of the Independence party – who called the election in September after less than a year in office as a scandal involving his father prompted a government ally to drop out of his ruling coalition.
“I have a formal mandate to try to form a government,” Jakobsdóttir told reporters after talks with the president, Guðni Jóhannesson.
Under the Icelandic system, the president – who holds a largely ceremonial role, usually tasks the leader of the biggest party with putting a government together.
The former journalist led her party to second place with 11 seats in Saturday’s vote. Benediktsson’s Independence party – which has dominated Icelandic politics for decades – won the most seats, but fell short of a parliamentary majority.
A Left-Green-led coalition would be possible if they joined forces with the Social Democrats, the Progressive party and the Pirate party. Together, they would hold 32 of parliament’s 63 seats.
If her talks to form a coalition are successful, then the Left-Green Movement and its partners would become the country’s second left-leaning government since its independence from Denmark in 1944.
The Left-Green election campaign was focused on inequality.
The Nordic island of 340,000 people, one of the countries hit hardest by the 2008 financial crisis, has seen an economic rebound spurred by a tourism boom. But a string of political scandals have hurt trust in government in recent years.
Jakobsdóttir has promised to make sure Iceland’s economic prosperity, triggered by booming tourism, leads to a boost in public spending on health and education.
Growing public distrust of the elite in recent years has spawned several anti-establishment parties, fragmenting the political landscape and making it increasingly difficult to form a stable government.
The Panama Papers, which revealed offshore tax havens, listed more than 600 Icelanders – in a country of just 346,750 people – including Benediktsson.
Jakobsdóttir is free of scandal and served as education minister for Iceland’s first left-leaning government, which took power after the nation’s devastating 2008 economic collapse.
“When we are in a situation of having such great distrust in politicians, she’s the person you would like to invite to your home and have coffee with,” said Egill Helgason, a political commentator for public broadcaster RUV.
Married with three sons, Jakobsdóttir graduated from the University of Icelandand later received a master’s degree in Icelandic literature after writing a thesis on the popular crime writer Arnaldur Indriðason.
Surveys suggest she garners most of her support from voters aged between 18-29, in particular women, and that she appeals to an electorate beyond the Left-Green Movement’s base.
“I think she would be a strong leader … because she has been a member of the parliament for a long time among corrupt people and still stayed true to herself,” said Sólkatla Ólafsdóttir, a 26-year-old supporter of the anti-establishment Pirates party.
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