A joy quickly showered, but a feat nonetheless. Iceland briefly believed Sunday September 26 to have become the first country in Europe to elect a majority of women to Parliament, but a recount has rewritten this page of history by dropping the female share to 47.6%.
Of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the millennial Icelandic Parliament, 30 will be held by women, compared to 33 before this recount. This proportion remains the new record in Europe, with Sweden thus far occupying the first place with 47% of MEPs, according to data compiled by the World Bank.
“Women must dare to take power”
Following this new count which changed some votes in one of the six constituencies of the country, due to the very complex Icelandic electoral system, three women lost the seat that was promised to them. “These few difference votes are causing these great upheavals”, noted Ingi Tryggvason, chairman of the local electoral commission.
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No one had asked for it, but “We decided to recount because the result was so close”, added the electoral official of the North-West constituency. There is still some uncertainty, however, as a possible recount in another constituency in the south of the country could again have consequences.
Before this dramatic turn of events, officials and ordinary citizens congratulated themselves on seeing little Iceland (370,000 inhabitants) enter European political history. No country in Europe has ever crossed the symbolic bar of 50% of women in a Parliament.
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While several parties themselves reserve a minimum proportion of women among their candidates, no law imposes a quota of women for legislative elections in Iceland. The Nordic country is consistently at the forefront of feminism and for 12 consecutive years at the top of the World Economic Forum’s ranking for gender equality.
Behind this symbol, the legislative elections organized last Saturday were marked by the weakened position of Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, despite the strengthening of the government coalition in power. His left-wing environmentalist party, the Left-Greens movement, lost three seats and came down with 12.6% of the vote behind its two current right-wing allies.
The big winner is the Progress Party (center right), which won 13 seats, five more than in the last elections in 2017, with 17.3% of the vote. The jubilation reigned in the night at the HQ of the party “Back to the forefront of the political scene”, launched to the cheers its leader Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, who finds himself in the position of Prime Minister.
But the conservative party of former Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson remained Iceland’s leading party with 24.4% of the vote, thus keeping its 16-seat contingent when the polls predicted a decline.
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With a total of 37 seats, the three allied parties therefore consolidate their majority in total, but the right is in a position of strength. With the option of finding another third partner closer ideologically, for example the centrist parties of the Reform (five seats) or the Center (three deputies).
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Even if the negotiations are traditionally long, Iceland is moving away from a scenario of political blockage that the polls feared. Never since the spectacular bankruptcy of Icelandic banks in 2008 and the serious crisis that followed, has an outgoing Icelandic government retained its majority. We have to go back to 2003 to find a precedent.