SYDNEY MORNING HERALD ~~ Monday April 27, 2009
Iceland votes woman in to tidy up the mess
Paola Totaro Europe Correspondent
ICELAND has voted for a new era, throwing out the conservatives and ushering in a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens led by the world's first openly lesbian prime minister.
Johanna Sigurdardottir, white hair impeccably coiffed, told state TV in Iceland yesterday that her new government had wrested a five-seat majority in the 63-seat parliament.
The 67-year-old, the tiny North Atlantic nation's longest-serving MP, has held high approval ratings among voters despite the economic meltdown which led to the nationalisation of three banks and an International Monetary Fund bailout. When the conservative prime minister and his central bank governor resigned, she was still polling more than 70 per cent with voters who appear to trust her and her long stints as social affairs minister.
In an echo of her defiant loss of a leadership battle 15 years ago when she punched the air and said "My time will come", Ms Sigurdardottir told ecstatic supporters: "I believe this will be our big victory!"
Iceland has long been fiercely independent and analysts say the Social Democrats' win indicates a big shift in public opinion in the nation's view of itself.
Voters clearly punished the centre-right coalition that was forced to hand over power at the beginning of the year after the economy fell apart and banks collapsed in the wake of cowboy policies of expansion into financial services and credit.
Social unrest, protests and strikes were unleashed for months before the political crisis that changed the balance of power. The economy is still expected to shrink by close to 10 per cent.
Icelanders made it clear at the polls on the weekend that they perceived their predominantly male politicians and bankers as part of the problem, and that it may be women - and the way they do politics and business - who need to be given a chance to tidy up the mess.
Ms Sigurdardottir's interim 11-member cabinet was made up of five women, the most in the nation's history. The managers installed to run two of the three beleaguered banks are also women.
(UK) ~~ Sunday April 26, 2009
Iceland's Social Democrat leader claims poll win
- * Prime Minister's alliance set for outright majority
- * PM wants quick talks to enter EU * Economic crisis triggered by collapse of banks
By Patrick Lannin
REYKJAVIK, April 26 (Reuters) - Social Democrat Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir claimed victory in Iceland's election on Sunday after street protests over an economic meltdown toppled the previous conservative-led government.
With 42 percent of votes counted, a state TV projection showed her Social Democrat/Left-Green caretaker government that stepped in after the old administration fell would win 35 seats, a majority of four in the 63-seat parliament.
"I believe this will be our big victory," the 66-year-old Sigurdardottir, leader of the Social Democratic Alliance, told cheering supporters.
The results from Saturday's election were set to put the pro-European Union Social Democrats in the driving seat of the centre-left coalition, though it must find a compromise with the anti-EU Left-Greens on starting entry talks with the bloc.
Sigurdardottir, who is convinced she can find such a compromise, has said Iceland should quickly start talks and then eventually hold a referendum on EU entry.
Voters punished the centre-right Independence Party, which led the previous coalition government that surrendered power in January over blame for last year's crisis in which the economy imploded as banks collapsed under a weight of vast debts.
The television projection gave the Independence Party 15 seats, down from 25 at the last election in 2007.
Though heading for an outright parliamentary majority, the new government faces tough decisions to cut spending, raise revenues and find ways to reduce surging unemployment.
Icelanders took to the streets in January after their banks buckled under debt that was used to fuel aggressive overseas expansion into financial services.
The economy went into meltdown and Iceland's currency plummeted, forcing the government to agree a $10 billion IMF-led rescue for the nation of 300,000.
Iceland still expects the economy to contract by more than 10 percent this year and inflation was 15.2 percent in March.
On the issue of EU entry, opinion polls show Icelanders remain split but Sigurdardottir has said that once they have understood the benefits they would back such a move.
If Iceland entered the EU within a year to 18 months, it would be able to adopt the euro within four years, she says.
"I really hope that the parties on the left will stand up as winners because I think they are more capable of leading us out of the crisis," said teacher Hrafnhildur Asthorsdottir.
A new party, formed from the grassroots movement that led the street protests, was set to win four seats, the television projection showed. (Additional reporting by Omar Valdirmarsson; Editing by Ralph Gowling)
THE AGE ~~ Melbourne ~~ Saturday 25 April 2009
Iceland warms to Johanna's vision
By Paola Totaro
SHE IS 67, white haired and with 31 years' service as an MP under her belt, seems an unlikely symbol for a troubled nation clamouring for fresh political blood.
Early tomorrow, when Icelanders finish voting in their national election, Johanna Sigurdardottir quiet, elegant and bespectacled is tipped to make modern political history, becoming the world's first openly lesbian prime minister to be elected and ushering in a new feminine hierarchy.
A Social Democrat with a distinguished, if low key, political pedigree, Ms Sigurdardottir is still affectionately remembered for a failed leadership challenge almost 20 years ago when she thrust a defiant fist in the air and declared: "My time will come."
Now an aphorism in Iceland, it has been seen on T-shirts in the national capital, Reykjavik, as election day approached.
In fact, Ms Sigurdardottir's "time" arrived in February this year, when months of public protest and social unrest forced not only the resignation of conservative prime minister Geir Haarde, but also David Oddson, Iceland's central bank governor and a former prime minister himself.
But while Mr Haarde was targeted by a protesting electorate and furious, egg-throwing students wherever he was seen in public, Ms Sigurdardottir's caring style as a long-term social affairs minister between 1987 to 1994 and again from 2007 kept her approval ratings steady during the financial crisis, settling at a remarkable 73 per cent this year.
She was installed almost immediately as caretaker Prime Minister in a centre-left coalition with the Left-Green movement, widely perceived to be her greatest threat to continuing in the leadership.
However, in the few months that have followed, Ms Sigurdardottir has carved a popular presence that is widely perceived to be a unifying force in difficult social and economic times.
Local polls show that most Icelanders want her to lead no matter what party wins and to head a new government coalition.
Iceland, which had enjoyed years of rapid economic growth fuelled by bullish banks and huge debt, was the first casualty of the global financial meltdown, plunging deeper into crisis than any other country in Europe or the industrialised world. The tiny north Atlantic island has evaded national bankruptcy solely through a £7 billion ($A14.3 billion) International Monetary Fund bailout, nationalising its three banks as well as a swathe of its most important and previously powerful companies, including a national vehicle dealership.
Inflation has hit more than 15 per cent, the krona is in freefall with few signs of a parachute and unemployment in this previously well-off nation has rocketed to more than 10 per cent.
It is also widely feared that when the summer holidays start and high school and university students graduate, the jobless could represent more than 16 per cent of the population.
In all this, Icelanders have responded by seeing their predominantly male politicians and disgraced bankers as part of the root cause of the problem, and that it may be women and the way they do politics and business who need to be given a chance to tidy up the mess.
Already, Ms Sigurdardottir's interim 11-member cabinet includes five women, more than ever in Iceland's political history, and the managers installed to run two of the three beleaguered banks are also women.
Ms Sigurdardottir married Jonina Leosdottir, a novelist and journalist, in a civil ceremony in 2002 at age 60.
She had been married to a banker and has two sons.
Iceland legalised same-sex marriages in 1996.
Ms Sigurdardottir's career began as a flight attendant and during the 1960s and 1970s she became involved in trade union affairs at her workplace.
She is reportedly averse to taking a high media profile and does not like interviews. Even on the internet, photographs of her are few and far between.
But according to political analysts, she has that priceless gift people trust her and believe what she says.
ICELAND REVIEW March 18 2009
Iceland to Ban Stripping and Prostitution
Minister of Social Affairs Ásta Ragnheidur Jóhannesdóttir presented an action plan against human trafficking yesterday, which includes placing bans on operating strip clubs and purchasing sexual services.
It is hoped that the ban will take effect before the parliamentary elections on April 25.
From the strip club Goldfinger. Photo by Páll Stefánsson. Taken in relation to Sara Blask's feature "Dancer in the Dark" published in the 2006 winter issue of Iceland Review.
“Human trafficking is the most disgusting form of international and organized crime that exists in the world,” Jóhannesdóttir said while presenting the 25-point action plan, Fréttabladid reports.
In 2007, with an amendment to existing legislation, prostitution was legalized in Iceland as long as a third party doesn’t profit from it.
After Jóhannesdóttir presented the action plan, MP for the Left-Greens Atli Gíslason presented a bill on banning the purchase of sexual services, which is backed by other MPs from the government parties and the Progressive Party.
“A complete victory has been achieved after many years of fighting by women’s rights organization and other social organizationsand no less by MPs who have often submitted bills on this topic to Althingi [the parliament],” Jóhannesdóttir said. “I’m one of them and so this day is an especially happy day for me.”
The new bill will not criminalize the solicitation of sex, which Jóhannesdóttir described as the “Swedish approach” to combating human trafficking.