Today is election day in Iceland and Icelanders will be voting on who will be the President of Iceland for the next four years. This election is unusual as the standing president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, has some worthy opposition.
First a brief look into what the President of Iceland does. Iceland has been a fully independent country since 1944. When we became independent we almost just took the Danish constitution and replaced “King” with “President”. This was considered temporary, but most of it is still valid. The first President was chosen by our 1000 year old Alþingi parliament for one year only. He was however never opposed and was in office until his death in 1952.
After his death, the first elections were held. At this time people had very differing views of what our President should be. Many thought that the President should be a political head of state and others felt he should be more of a “symbol of national unity” like the Nordic royalty. The president that was elected then was not political and for the most part the Presidents since then have been non political and have run unopposed until retirement. Perhaps the best example of such a president and our most popular president was Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the world’s first female president. Despite the constitution placing considerable power on the president, these presidents have not exercised any of this power. They have focused more on cutting ribbons, representing Iceland abroad and receiving foreign heads of state.
The current president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, was elected in 1996. He was unusual in that he had a long political background. As President he has for the most part not interfered with politics, but he was the first to exercise the president’s strongest power, refusing to sign a law. The President can refuse to sign laws and defer the law to a national Referendum. This he has once threatened to do, making Alþingi rethink the law and more recently regarding Ice Save he sent the laws to a referendum twice. In both of these instances the nation denied the laws.
Ólafur has run unopposed for the most part since 1996. There have actually been elections, but no serious opponent. The principle opponent has been Ástþór Magnússon. Ástþór is seen by most as a joke, always running, but usually receiving less than 1%.
The current candidates however are serious (Ástþór was disqualified due to fraud). They all represent people’s different ideas about the Presidency. Some want to act as more political presidents while others want to cut ribbons and unite the nation. Here’s a list of the candidates.
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (ca. 50% in polls)
Ólafur is the incumbent president. Most people understood his New Year’s address so that he would not run again, sparking a debate on who should be the next president. He later said that he did not understand how people understood his words like that and declared that he was running again.
Þóra Arnórsdóttir (ca. 30% in polls)
Þóra is the only candidate who has a chance to topple the incumbent president. She is well known in Iceland as TV presenter. She represents those who wish to return to a less political president. She has garnered attention abroad for being pregnant throughout most of the campaign.
Ari Trausti Guðmundsson (ca. 10% in polls)
The geologist, writer and mountaineer also represents a step back from politics. If you go to Iceland, chances are you will buy a book written by him. He’s written several books on hiking and travelling in Iceland. He’s also climbed many of the world’s highest mountains.
Herdís Þorgeirsdóttir (ca. 5% in polls)
Herdís is a lawyer and former publisher. She has studied and lived a lot abroad. She wants the President to be a unifying figure, but would interfere with parliament when she felt it needed.
Andrea Ólafsdóttir (ca. 3% in polls)
The youngest of the candidates and the most extreme politically. Although she does not align her views with any of the political parties, she intends to exercise many of the constitutional powers that no former president has even thought about. Oh yes and she will work for minimum wage.
Hannes Bjarnason (less than 1% in polls)
The underdog in this campaign comes has lived for the past 14 years in Norway but intends to come back and save Iceland. He follows the step back from politics ideology. A lot of people have been making fun of him since he speaks Icelandic with a strong Norwegian accent. This he promises to fix.