Iceland’s ‘crazy’ year ends

By Hugues Honore — Iceland is ending an eventful year in a political quagmire, left without a government for two months after the Panama Papers scandal and a snap election reflecting deep divisions in the island nation.
“In recent years, we thought we were seeing the craziest, but we were proven wrong every time — Iceland found ways to be even crazier,” a parliamentary assistant from the Icelandic opposition said on April 6, seeing a government in tatters hesitate on its next move.
Former Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson had resigned the day before over revelations of his holdings stashed away in a tax haven.
This prompted demonstrations for six consecutive days with protesters shouting “Elections right away! Elections right away!”
The anti-establishment Pirate Party was pushing at the gates of power — but they never opened. The government said it would wait six months to hold a snap election, triggered by the latest scandal.
The outcome in October dashed the hopes of a clear-cut exit to the political crisis. Neither the left, the right, nor the centre had a majority.
Efforts to form a coalition were paralysed by everyone’s refusal to deal with Gunnlaugsson’s centrist Progressive Party, which won eight of the 63 seats.
Journalist Johannes Kristjansson, the only Icelander to have access to the Panama Papers, had been bewildered when he saw how many politicians were listed in the documents. Two months after the election he commented: “They were all re-elected.”
Icelandic Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, who had set up an offshore company in the Seychelles, even saw his party, the Conservatives, win the most seats, with 21. Gunnlaugsson is still an MP.
The “Pirates” revolution did not take place.
In November, the right first tried its luck with the centre, without any success. So did the left.
In the last days of 2016, it was back to square one with the right renegotiating with centrists.
But it was not a lost year for the Nordic nation, also known for its breathtaking landscapes.
Its economy is flourishing with growth expected to reach five per cent, after 4.2 per cent in 2015. Unemployment has virtually disappeared. Incomes are rising fast. Construction is booming. — AFP