Election Backlash Over Women Rebels Hits Iceland’s Biggest Party

  • Ruling Independence Party faces row over candidate selection
  • Pirate Party polls strongly ahead of October 29 elections

A rebellion by women has shaken Iceland’s Independence Party as it struggles to fend off the Pirate Party in elections next month.

Eleven female members quit leadership positions within the group after party primaries swept many women hopefuls aside, in what they called a "shocking" result and an intolerable setback to gender equality.

"The situation within the party is very serious," said Jarthrudur Asmundsdottir, a former chairman of the Independence Party women’s group, one of 11 out of 14 members of the board of the National Association of Independent Women who said they were quitting last week. "Over the years we’ve all fought for greater gender equality within the party. Now enough is enough."

The row comes as a new poll shows the conservative and euro-skeptic Independence Party of Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson running neck-and-neck with the Pirate Party, an upstart direct-democracy movement, whose activists have made greater transparency in public accounts one of their election priorities.

The Independence Party is allied with Prime Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson’s Progressive Party and is one of Iceland’s most established. It has taken part in 20 out of 30 ruling coalitions since the north Atlantic nation gained independence from Denmark in 1944.

The rebellion risks adding to its electoral woes. The party was in charge of the country when its largest banks collapsed in the financial crisis of 2008. More recently, they’ve come under pressure over their associations with Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, whose resignation as prime minister over the leaked Panama papers forced the government to call the Oct. 29 snap election.

Iceland, like other Nordic nations, has traditionally been at the forefront in the fight for gender equality, regularly topping the international gender gap tables.

The result of primary votes held among party members in two of Iceland’s six voting districts were described by the rebels as "a shock," as experienced women were pushed down the list of candidates, weakening their chances of securing a seat in parliament.

In a resignation letter, Asmundsdottir and two other prominent party members accused the leadership of being "out of touch" and standing in the way of gender equality.

Sigurbjorn Ingimundarson, the parliamentary whip, said women are already "entrusted with a lot of responsibility" within the party and the rebels should accept the results of the democratic vote. Still, there is "cause for concern," he said.

According to Baldur Thorhallsson, the row over the outcome of the primaries "can hurt the Independence Party." The professor of political science at the University of Iceland said that the Revival Party, a rival center-right group founded in April by former Independence party members, stands to gain. Three of the 11 board members who resigned have threatened to leave the movement altogether.

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