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Iceland may join EU after left-wing victory

  • Paola Totaro
  • April 27, 2009

ICELAND has voted for a new era, returning a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens and sending the conservative party they blame for the country's economic meltdown seven months ago to one of its worst election results.

Johanna Sigurdardottir told state TV in Iceland yesterday that her coalition had secured a four-seat majority in the 63-seat parliament.

Ms Sigurdardottir, at 66 the tiny north Atlantic nation's longest-serving MP, has held remarkably high approval ratings, despite the nationalisation of three banks and an IMF bail-out.

Icelandic voters showed they were still very angry with the out-going centre-right coalition, which, after 18 years in power, was forced to step down at the beginning of the year after the economy fell apart and banks collapsed.

"We lost this time but we will win again later," Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson said, conceding defeat as estimates showed his conservative party taking just 23.4 per cent of votes, far below its previous all-time low of 27 per cent from 1987.

The Social Democrats had polled 31.9 per cent of votes, and the Left-Green Movement 20.9 per cent, according to estimates based on 55.6 per cent of ballots counted.

Those numbers would give the coalition an absolute majority of 52.8 per cent, a first for a left-wing government.

A party formed at the height of the economic collapse and which has pushed for democratic reforms, the Civil Movement, looks set to enter parliament with 7.9 per cent of the vote.

The results, which are still to be finalised, place the Social Democrats in an interesting position as they are fiercely pro-European Union while the significant bloc of Left-Greens are anti-EU.

Iceland has long been fiercely independent and analysts say that the Social Democrats' win clearly indicates a major shift in public opinion.

Ms Sigurdardottir, who is openly a lesbian, made it clear she considered EU membership and adoption of the euro to be part of the solution to the country's huge debt.

"If we apply immediately for EU membership we will be able to adopt the euro within four years," she said before the poll, adding that Iceland "already meets 70 to 75 per cent of EU criteria".

In the past, many Icelanders have feared the EU would interfere with their fishing industry, which accounts for 36.6 per cent of exports and is seen as crucial to economic recovery.

Since the financial crisis began, the krona has lost 44 per cent of its value, and the country's 320,000 people face difficult times.

Unemployment is at its highest in decades, and increases in taxes and slashed public spending are on the horizon.

With AFP

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