Iceland Presidential Election: June 27, 2020

Icelandic flags outside Reykjavík City Hall. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Eivind Sætre (CC-BY-2.5)

Freedom House Rating
Government Type
Unitary Parliamentary Republic
Presidential Election
June 27, 2020
Parliamentary Elections
October 2021 (due)
Local Elections
May 2022 (due)
Local Elections
May 26, 2018
Parliamentary Elections
October 28, 2017
Presidential Election
June 25, 2016

Political Context

Because Iceland is a parliamentary republic, the president’s role is largely ceremonial. The Prime Minister has most executive powers. Nonetheless, the president plays an important diplomatic role as a national figurehea

Political outsider and independent candidate Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson won Iceland’s last presidential election in 2016. The election came on the heels of the Panama Papers scandal that led to the resignation of the prime minister and widespread anger at the political class.

However, anger at the political class appears to have cooled somewhat ahead of the 2017 parliamentary elections, in which the mainstream political parties did well. The conservative Independence Party won the most seats, but not enough to form a government on its own. Ultimately, Independence formed a left-right coalition government not only its longtime coalition partner, the agrarian Progressive Party, but also the left-wing Left-Green Movement.

The parties formed the grand coalition largely out of a desire to stem political instability. The Financial Times’ Richard Milne notes: “Of the four Icelandic governments since 2007, only one has served a full four-year term: the centre-left administration from 2009 to 2013. Iceland has faced two elections in the past 13 months due to repeated scandals involving the centre-right. Ms Jakobsdottir will become Iceland’s sixth prime minister in the past decade.”

The Independence Party also did well in the 2018 local elections.

Nonetheless, Jóhannesson enjoys high approval ratings and is running for re-election.

Geopolitical Context

Iceland, formerly under the control of the Denmark and Norway, became independent but in union with Denmark in 1918. In 1944, Icelanders voted in a referendum to sever ties with Denmark and form a republic. Although neutral during World War II (but occupied by British and American forces), Iceland became a founding member of NATO in 1949 (although the country does not have a military).

Iceland is strategically located at the intersection of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans (although it considers itself fully in the Arctic). Although not a member of the European Union (Iceland applied, but then froze and later withdrew the application because it was controversial domestically), Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Schengen.

Curated News and Analysis

Andie Sophia Fontaine, The Reykjavik Grapevine (January 2, 2020): Iceland’s President Will Run For Re-Election

Updated March 1, 2020

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