Iceland election results in Europe’s first female-majority parliament

Ruling coalition increases majority but shape of new government uncertain

Iceland’s prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir casts her vote at a polling station in Reykjavik on Saturday. Photograph: Arni Torfason/AP

Iceland’s prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir casts her vote at a polling station in Reykjavik on Saturday. Photograph: Arni Torfason/AP

 

Iceland has become the first country in Europe to have more women than men in parliament, a day after a general election that left the future of the prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, in doubt despite her left-right coalition winning a clear majority.

Of the 63 seats in the Althing parliament, 33 – or 52 per cent – were won by women, projections based on the final results showed on Sunday. No other European country has had more than 50 per cent female lawmakers, with Sweden coming closest at 47 per cent , according to data compiled by the World Bank.

Five other countries in the world have parliaments where women hold at least half the seats, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union: Rwanda (61 per cent), Cuba (53 per cent), Nicaragua (51 per cent), and Mexico and the United Arab Emirates (both 50 per cent).

Unlike some other countries, Iceland does not have legal quotas on female representation in parliament. The Nordic country has long been a pioneer in gender equality and women’s rights, and has topped the World Economic Forum’s ranking of most egalitarian countries for the past 12 years.

Iceland was the first country to elect a woman as president in 1980. “I am 85, I’ve waited all my life for women to be in a majority... I am really happy,” Erdna, a Reykjavik resident, said.

Weakened

The election has left Jakobsdóttir with an uncertain future after her part of the coalition, the Left-Green Movement, emerged weakened while its rightwing partners both posted strong showings.

The Left-Green Movement took eight seats, three fewer than in 2017, while the Independence party, whose leader is Bjarni Benediktsson, the current finance minister and a former prime minister, looked set to remain the largest and hold its 16 seats.

But the election’s big winner appeared to be the centre-right Progressive Party, which gained five seats, giving it 13.

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

“We will have to see how the governmental parties are doing together and how we are doing,” Jakobsdóttir said on Saturday as the first votes were counted.

Eva Önnudóttir, a political scientist at the University of Iceland, said there was “a possibility” the tripartite government would decide to carry on. She said the fact that the climate crisis was one of voters’ top concerns could work in Jakobsdóttir’s favour.

Deep public distrust of politicians amid repeated scandals sent Icelanders to the polls five times from 2007 to 2017. This is only the second time since 2008 that a government has made it to the end of its four-year mandate and the first time since 2003 that a government has retained its majority.

During her four-year term, Jakobsdóttir 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. The country, with a population of 370,000, has recorded 33 deaths.

Climate crisis

Jakobsdóttir said on 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”.

Opinion polls had forecast the coalition would fall short of a majority, but a surge in support for the centre-right Progressive Party, which won five more seats than in the parliamentary election in 2017, pushed the coalition’s total count to 37 seats in the 63-seat Althing parliament, according to state broadcaster RUV.

Iceland’s current government, which consists of Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, the conservative Independence Party and the Progressive Party, said before the election that they would negotiate continued co-operation if they held their majority.

President Gudni Jóhannesson said he would not hand a mandate to form a new government to any party, but would await coalition talks between the three governing parties.

“Now the ball is in the hands of the sitting government,” he told newspaper Vísir.