Iceland elects parliament with female majority in first for Europe

Iceland updates

Iceland became the first country in Europe to elect a majority of female parliamentarians as the Nordic island joins Rwanda and Cuba in having more women than men at the top level of national politics.

Iceland’s parliament will have 33 female MPs and 30 male MPs after an election that brought success for ruling centre-right parties but weakened the centre-left group of Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir.

“In a historic and international sense, the most significant news is that women are in a majority for the first time in the Icelandic parliament, and for the first time in Europe. That is good news,” said Gudni Johannesson, Iceland’s president.

The only countries in the world that have female parliamentary majorities are Rwanda — with a record 61 per cent women MPs — and Cuba, according to World Bank data. The Inter-Parliamentary Union adds Nicaragua to the list.

Sweden with 47 per cent was the highest European country, with Iceland’s former parliament having 38 per cent female representation. Iceland has won the ranking as the most gender-equal country in the world for the past 12 years, according to the World Economic Forum.

The fate of Iceland’s female prime minister, however, is in the balance after her Left-Green party did worst of the three ruling parties, even as the left-right coalition won a majority of seats.

The winners of the election were the centre-right Independence party, the traditional party of power in Iceland led by finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson. It came first with 16 seats, the same as in 2017; and the rural Progressive party, which gained five seats taking its tally to 13 and is led by former prime minister Sigurdur Johansson. The Left-Greens have eight seats after losing three, while other leftwing parties struggled.

Iceland’s current government has had to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on tourism, which had grown over the past decade to become the island nation’s biggest industry.

The island of 370,000 people, well used to boom-bust cycles, has withstood the current health and economic crisis in better shape than the 2008 financial crisis when its three largest banks collapsed. But it remains the only Nordic country whose economy has not yet recovered to its pre-pandemic levels.

Just before the elections, the left-right coalition rushed through the privatisation of Islandsbanki, the second of the successors to the three banks to be listed.

Jakobsdottir said on Sunday that the three ruling parties were likely to hold talks on continuing in power. Johannesson said he would not give a mandate to any of the parties to form a government but would first wait for talks between the parties currently in power.

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