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Iceland Government Poised to Win Majority, but Future Uncertain


Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir speaks to the media after voting at a polling station in Reykjavik, Iceland, Sept. 25, 2021.

Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir's left-right coalition government was poised Sunday to win a clear majority in Iceland's general election, though it remained to be seen whether the three parties would continue to govern together.

The coalition has brought Iceland four years of stability after a decade of political crises, but Jakobsdottir's Left-Green Movement emerged weakened from the election, losing ground to its right-wing partners which both posted strong showings.

Projections based on more than 75% of votes counted saw the Left-Green Movement, the conservative Independence Party and the center-right Progressive Party together winning 37 of 63 seats in parliament, up from the 33 seats they held previously.

The Left-Green Movement was seen taking eight seats, three fewer than in 2017 and casting doubt on Jakobsdottir's future as prime minister.

The largest party looked set to remain the Independence Party, whose leader Bjarni Benediktsson -- the current finance minister and a former prime minister -- is eyeing Jakobsdottir's job.

It won almost a quarter of votes and was seen holding on to its 16 seats.

But the election's big winner appeared to be the center-right Progressive Party, which was seen gaining five seats, to 13.

Ahead of the election, the coalition vowed to hold talks about its future together if it managed to hold on to its majority.

But after four years of concessions on all sides to keep the peace within the coalition, it is conceivable that the two right-wing parties may want to try to form a government without the Left Greens.

They could theoretically join up with one of several smaller, center-right parties to obtain a majority.

"We will have to see how the governmental parties are doing together and how we are doing," Jakobsdottir told AFP on Saturday as the first votes were being counted.

Strange bedfellows

A total of eight parties were seen winning seats in the Althing, Iceland's almost 1,100-year-old parliament.

The splintered political landscape makes it tricky to predict which parties could ultimately end up forming a coalition.

The Progressives looked set to become Iceland's second biggest party, elbowing out the Left-Green Movement.

Party leader Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson declined to say whether he would consider building a coalition with the Independence Party, without the Left Greens.

"I will wait to comment on any possible government cooperation until we have clearer results," he told public broadcaster RUV late Saturday.

Eva Onnudottir, a political scientist at the University of Iceland, told AFP there was however "a possibility" the current tripartite government would decide to carry on together.

She said the fact that the climate crisis was one of voters' top concerns could work in Jakobsdottir's favor.

The three parties had agreed to govern after the 2017 elections to bring stability to the nation after years of political upheaval.

Deep public distrust of politicians amid repeated scandals sent Icelanders to the polls five times from 2007 to 2017.

In the last election, the Left Greens posted a strong result and the Independence Party suffered big losses.

Now, the tables are turned.

'Huge challenges' ahead

This is only the second time since 2008 that a government has made it to the end of its four-year mandate on the sprawling island, and the first time since 2003 that a government has retained its majority.

During her four-year term, Jakobsdottir has introduced a progressive income tax system, increased the social housing budget and extended parental leave for both parents.

Broadly popular, she has also been hailed for her handling of the COVID-19 crisis, with just 33 deaths in the country of 370,000.

She said Saturday that if returned to power, her party would focus on the "huge challenges we face to build the economy in a more green and sustainable way," as well addressing the climate crisis where "we need to do radical things."

A majority of women looked set to win big, taking 32 of the 63 seats in Iceland's parliament, in what would be a first in the country long known as a champion of gender equality.