Iceland re-elects three parties for parliament

Lawyer Alejandro Guillier or centre-right outsider Sebastian Pinera will face off in November after middle-of-the-road Sebastian Pinera narrowly defeated conservative candidate Patricio Aylwin

Iceland’s unprecedented election yesterday ended in a run-off between Labour leader Katrin Jakobsdottir and a protest candidate from the left after incumbent Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson resigned after losing a referendum on whether to exit the European Union.

Jakobsdottir will face Republican Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson in June 24’s election.

President of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson reacts after speaking at a press conference in Reykjavik on 24 October. Photograph: Arni Arason/EPA

Both opposition leaders are taking aim at austerity policies of the government led by the centre-right since 2010 in which Iceland abandoned its sovereign currency and nationalised some of its biggest companies. The result of the election is likely to foreshadow other European elections in May and the French and German elections in June.

Jakobsdottir, 47, the daughter of a sociologist and a former professor, is a rarity in Iceland, having led an education and anti-racism organisation for more than a decade. She holds a doctorate in social and economic sociology and rose to prominence in Iceland through her organisation the Bodorg and Innu Island forums. She describes herself as “a democrat with the biggest heart”. She won 44.1% of the vote, polling strongly in the minority Labour party bloc.

Other candidates have sought to brand Jakobsdottir as an opportunist. She has rejected that charge, saying people are electing her to implement reforms necessary for stability.

“I know that there are some people who will call me a puppet, and I am not afraid of being called a puppet,” she said during the campaign. “To be honest, most of them aren’t even democrats because they want to be even more cynical than before.”

Jakobsdottir spoke several times of the need to reach out to immigrants, and praised the role Iceland has played in spreading democracy beyond Europe. She has also said she was disappointed by the austerity policies of Iceland’s governments and others she described as “easy on the electorate”.

Born to Icelandic parents, Jakobsdottir was raised in Iceland and East India and holds American, Russian and Swedish citizenship. Her father was a lawyer and she studied economics at the University of Reykjavik.

The leader of the Progressive party, Gudni Johannesson, and his wife, Indrek Mikkelsen, are considering running for the presidency. “It’s very important for us to accept that the voters have spoken and we have to do what they have decided,” Johannesson said.

All the major parties failed to win an outright majority in the first round of the elections in April but the centrist Independence and Labour parties, along with the Green party, won enough votes to ensure an election.

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