Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Icelandic Althing (Parliament)
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

Iceland held a parliamentary election on Saturday, April 27, 2013. An overview of the proportional representation system used to choose members of the unicameral Icelandic legislature - the Althing - is presented here.

Nationwide and constituency-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Althing elections:

      April 27, 2013      
      April 25, 2009      
      May 12, 2007      
      May 10, 2003      

Nationwide results are also available for the following Althing elections:

      May 8, 1999      
      April 8, 1995      
      April 20, 1991      
      April 25, 1987      
      April 23, 1983      
      December 2-3, 1979      
      June 25, 1978      
      June 30, 1974      
      June 13, 1971      
      June 11, 1967      
      June 9, 1963      
      June 28 and October 25-26, 1959      
      June 24, 1956      
      June 28, 1953      
      October 23-24, 1949      
      June 30, 1946      

1946 to 2009 election statistics presented in this space come from reports and data files issued by Statistics Iceland, while 2013 election results come from Iceland newsdaily Morgunblaðið.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Parliament of the Republic of Iceland, the Althing, is composed of 63 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a four-year term of office.

Members of the Althing are elected by a two-tier proportional representation (PR) system. A total of 54 seats are filled in six multi-member constituencies. Constituency seats are apportioned according to the largest average method of proportional representation (PR), conceived by the Belgian mathematician Victor d'Hondt in 1899. Voters cast a ballot for a constituency party list, and may change the ranking of candidates, or reject candidates on a list by crossing their names out.

Althing seats are apportioned on a nationwide basis among political parties by a modified version of the largest average method, in which the divisors for each party equal its total number of constituency seats, plus 1, 2, 3, and so on. However, in order to participate in the distribution of seats at the national level, a party must obtain at least five percent of all valid votes cast.

Althing mandates won by a party at the multi-member constituency level are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party, and the remaining mandates are filled from nine equalizing or weighting seats assigned to the constituencies, following a complex procedure designed to insure that these seats are allocated in all constituencies without changing the nationwide distribution of mandates.

The Icelandic Althing electoral system shares strong similarities with the systems used in Norway and (to a lesser degree) Sweden to choose members of their respective national legislatures, the Storting and the Riksdag.

The Political Parties

Iceland, which had been ruled by Denmark since 1380, gained its own constitution in 1874 and attained full self-government in 1904, when parliamentary government was introduced in the country (three years after its adoption in Denmark). Under the Act of Union of 1918, Iceland became an independent state under the Danish crown. In the following years, the country's present-day multi-party system began to take shape.

The Act of Union was expected to be in force for twenty-five years, but the German occupation of Denmark in 1940 effectively severed the union between the two countries. In 1944, Iceland formally terminated the union with Denmark and became a republic. Since that time, no party has attained an absolute majority of seats in the Althing, and coalition governments have ruled the country. Nonetheless, the right-of-center Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkur) remained Iceland's largest single party until 2009, taking part in (and usually presiding over) most coalition cabinets, frequently with the agrarian-liberal Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkur) - the country's second-largest political force until 1999 - and sometimes with the Social Democratic Party, which usually alternated in third place with the leftist People's Alliance.

Iceland's Social Democrats never developed an electoral following as strong as its counterparts in other Nordic countries, in no small measure due to competition from the People's Alliance, as well as other minor left-wing parties such as the feminist Women's Alliance. However, in 1999 the Social Democratic Party, the People's Alliance and the Women's Alliance came together as the Alliance (Samfylkingin), and displaced the Progressive Party to third place in the Althing election held that year. In the 2003 parliamentary election, the Alliance (which had become a single party) emerged as a major challenger to the Independence Party.

Some members of the People's Alliance and the Women's Alliance rejected the merger with the Social Democrats, and established the Left-Green Movement (Vinstri hreyfingin - grænt framboð) as an alternative to the left of the newly formed Alliance. The Left-Green Movement has been represented in the Althing since 1999, along with the Liberal Party (Frjálslyndi flokkurinn) - an Independence Party breakaway - until 2009.

The Independence Party was in power from 1991 to 2009, initially in coalition with the Social Democratic Party, from 1995 to 2007 with the Progressive Party, and from 2007 to 2009 with the Alliance. Independence Party leader Davíd Oddsson held the office of prime minister from 1991 to 2004 (the longest uninterrupted tenure of an Icelandic head of government), when he switched posts with then-Foreign Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson (Progressive). However, Ásgrímsson resigned in 2006, following a poor showing in municipal elections by the Progressive Party; Geir Haarde, who had been chairman of the Independence Party since 2005 (when Davíd Oddsson stepped down as both foreign minister and party chairman to become head of the country's central bank) succeeded Ásgrímsson as prime minister.

In the 2007 Althing election, the Independence Party scored modest gains, but the Progressive Party came in fourth place with its worst parliamentary election showing ever, and the ruling coalition's parliamentary majority was reduced to a single seat. As a result, the ruling parties decided to put an end to their coalition agreement, and the Independence Party subsequently formed a grand coalition government with the Alliance, in which Geir Haarde remained as head of government.

At the time of the election, Iceland was one of the most prosperous nations in the world, and the country had the highest Human Development Index as measured by the United Nations. However, in 2008 the Icelandic economy was severely affected by the escalating global financial crisis: in October of that year, the country's three major banks were placed into receivership in rapid succession. Moreover, inflation soared, unemployment reached its highest level in four decades, the krona - Iceland's national currency - lost more than half its value and the stock market lost ninety percent of its value. Following weeks of public protests over the government's handling of the economic crisis, in January 2009 Prime Minister Haarde - who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer - announced he would step down and called for an early election to be held on May 9. Haarde had initially intended to stay in office until the election (rescheduled later for April 25), but shortly afterwards Minister of Business Affairs Björgvin G. Sigurðsson resigned from office, and the grand coalition government subsequently collapsed.

In February 2009 the Alliance and the Left-Green Movement formed a minority coalition cabinet, with the support of the Progressive Party. The new government was headed by outgoing Minister of Social Affairs Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (Alliance), who became Iceland's first-ever female prime minister and the world's first openly gay head of government. She remained in office following the April 25 parliamentary election, in which the Alliance and the Left-Green Movement won an overall majority in the Althing; the Alliance also emerged as the largest single party in the election, displacing the Independence Party, which polled its worst general election result ever.

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Copyright © 2007-2013 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: April 27, 2013.