December 31, 2016 6:55:04 pm
Iceland is ending an eventful year in a political quagmire, left without a government for two months after the Panama Papers scandal and a snap election reflecting deep divisions in the island nation. “In recent years we thought we were seeing the craziest, but we were proven wrong every time – Iceland found ways to be even crazier,” a parliamentary assistant from the Icelandic opposition said on April 6, seeing a government in tatters hesitate on its next move.
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Former Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson had resigned the day before over revelations of his holdings stashed away in a tax haven.
This prompted demonstrations for six consecutive days with protesters shouting “Elections right away! Elections right away!” while striking metal fences in front of Iceland’s parliament.
The anti-establishment Pirate Party was pushing at the gates of power – but they never opened.
The government said it would wait six months to hold a snap election, triggered by the latest scandal in a country that had seen its share already after the 2008 financial meltdown.
The outcome in October dashed the hopes of a clear-cut exit to the political crisis. Neither the left, the right, nor the centre had a majority.
Efforts to form a coalition were paralysed by everyone’s refusal to deal with Gunnlaugsson’s centrist Progressive Party, which won eight of the 63 seats.
Journalist Johannes Kristjansson, the only Icelander to have access to the Panama Papers, had been bewildered when he saw how many politicians were listed in the documents. Two months after the election he commented: “They were all re-elected.”
Icelandic Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, who had set up an offshore company in the Seychelles, even saw his party, the Conservatives, win the most seats, with 21. Gunnlaugsson is still an MP.
The “Pirates” revolution did not take place. Instead, the 2017 budget, adopted days before Christmas, was a compromise between the outgoing government’s bill and concessions to other parties.
To form a new cabinet, “several formal and informal talks have taken place without leading to anything, and no one knows yet what will emerge,” the daily Frettabladid wrote yesterday.
In November, the right first tried its luck with the centre, without any success. So did the left.
Even the sworn enemies, the Independence Party and the Left-Green Movement, made an attempt. The Pirate Party, given a mandate by the president in December, failed as well.
In the last days of 2016, it was back to square one with the right renegotiating with centrists.
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