UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 27, 2009

LEFT-GREENS WIN IN ICELAND

Guardian, UK - Venting their fury at a government that presided over Iceland's transformation from one of the world's wealthiest countries into the biggest victim of the global financial meltdown, voters in an early election gave strongest support to the social democrats, who are pushing for Iceland to enter the European Union.

With 30% of the vote for the 63-seat Althingi or parliament, the Social Democrats emerged as comfortable winners under Johanna Sigurdardottir, the 66-year-old lesbian caretaker prime minister. The Left-Greens, an alliance of old-style socialists and younger environmentalists never previously voted into power, got 21.5% of the vote.

The leftwing coalition is assured of a three-seat majority and will need to embark on an austerity drive, swinging spending cuts, and probably tax rises for the rich to try to rescue an economy that came crashing down last October when the three main banks collapsed and the country teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.

Unemployment, inflation, and mortgage repayments are soaring as a result of the crash, which has saddled Iceland with levels of debt running to tens of thousands for each of the population of 320,000 and necessitating a 10bn-dollar bailout program led by the International Monetary Fund.

Public bitterness at the sudden collapse of a quality of life that was among the highest in the world fuelled fears that voters would stay at home on Saturday in protest at the entire political system. "I don't care who's in charge, right or left. If things don't work out, we'll be back on the streets," said Hordur Torfason, a leader of the January protests that brought down the previous centre-right government. But turnout, at 85%, was higher than in 2007's election.

The result leaves the country run by a former air stewardess and a former lorry driver - Sigurdardottir and the Left-Greens' leader, Steingrimur Sigfusson, who is expected to be finance minister. Both have been heading an interim government since February.

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