Iceland’s Parliamentary Elections: The Party Balance Changes

Nielsen: Often Takes Crisis to Get Big Policy Reaction

Iceland is a multi-party democracy based on proportional representation. That means governments are more often than not supported by a coalition: The last time a single party ruled the north Atlantic island nation was more than a quarter of a century ago.
So now the Independence Party must assemble a coalition even though its former partner, the Progressive Party, lost more than half its seats on Saturday. And the populist Pirate Party, which had loomed as a possible winner in some polls, more than tripled its seats.

To govern, any party or alliance of parties must secure more than half of the 63 seats available in the Althing, one of the world’s oldest parliaments -- its origins can be traced back to 930. Mandates last four years.

Here’s a brief outline of the parties’ leaders, policy priorities and number of seats won on Saturday:

Independence Party

  • Seats: 21
  • Origin: formed in 1929 to advocate independence from Denmark
  • Leader: Bjarni Benediktsson (incumbent finance minister)
  • Ideology: conservative/centrist
  • Campaign priorities: reduction of national debt, full removal of capital control, boost growth by cutting red tape
  • EU membership: opposed

Pirate Party

  • Seats: 10
  • Origin: founded in 2012 by Internet activists to promote free speech and less stringent copyright laws
  • Leader: no formal leader -- Smari McCarthy, Birgitta Jonsdottir and Einar Brynjolfsson act as spokespeople
  • Ideology: direct democracy
  • Campaign priorities: new constitution, crackdown on corruption, fishing quota reform
  • EU membership: neutral -- stance should be decided via referendum

Left-Green Movement

  • Seats: 10
  • Origin: founded in 1999 by opponents of merger that led to Social Democratic Alliance
  • Leader: Katrin Jakobsdottir (former minister of education, science and culture)
  • Ideology: left-wing/environmentalism/feminism/pacifism
  • Campaign priorities: gender equality, opposition to international free trade agreements and NATO membership, boost development aid
  • EU membership: opposed

Progressive Party

  • Seats: 8
  • Origin: founded in 1916 as a result of the merger of two farmers’ parties
  • Leader: Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson (incumbent prime minister)
  • Ideology: conservative/centrist
  • Campaign priorities: cut middle class taxes, raise pensions, fund infrastructure through new tourism tax; extend paternity/maternity leave to 12 months
  • EU membership: opposed


  • Seats: 7
  • Origin: founded in May 2016 following Independence Party split over EU and trade policies
  • Leader: Benedikt Johannesson (CEO of publishing company Heimur)
  • Ideology: free market
  • Campaign priorities: equal education for all, opposing special interests, higher taxes on use of natural resources, fixed exchange rate
  • EU membership: in favor

A Bright Future

  • Seats: 4
  • Origin: founded in 2012 by Progressive Party and Social Democratic Alliance defectors
  • Leader: Ottarr Proppe (musician, actor, former city councilor)
  • Ideology: social liberalism/centrist
  • Campaign priorities: new constitution, euro membership, sustainability tax on exploitation of natural resources
  • EU membership: in favor

Social Democratic Alliance

  • Seats: 3
  • Origin: founded in 2000 from merger of four left-wing parties
  • Leader: Oddny Hardardottir (former finance minister)
  • Ideology: social-democratic
  • Campaign priorities: more funding for health care, new constitution, fishing quota reform
  • EU membership: in favor

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