Guðni celebrating on presidential election night

28.06.2020 - 00:01
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: RÚV
Incumbent President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson will be elected to his second four-year term in office with some 91 percent of votes cast, according to the combined first results from all regions of the country. Final figures will be confirmed on Sunday, but the result so far is considered reliable to within a percent or two.

His challenger, Guðmundur Franklín Jónsson, received nine percent of the votes counted so far. 

Most polling stations in Iceland closed at 22.00 and initial results were reported from two districts shortly afterwards and Guðni was reported to have around 90 percent support from the outset. 

A potted history 

The Republic of Iceland, established in 1944, has had six presidents to date. Throughout the years, there has been an informal tradition of presidents not standing for more than four terms (16 years), and for those wishing to stand for re-election to face no opposition and be re-elected without a vote (11 times).  

There have been notable exceptions, though, including Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who served five terms, from 1996 to 2016. He threw his hat into the ring for a sixth term in 2016, saying the nation was in crisis thanks to the Panama Papers scandal (that would lead to the collapse of the government and an early Alþingi election) and needed stability. He later withdrew from the race when he decided enough worthy candidates had decided to stand against him. Guðni won that election. 

Guðni is a historian and appeared regularly in the media as an expert on political sciences during the political turmoil of 2016. He was encouraged to stand for election as his views and level-headedness gained him a strong following.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (president from 1980 to 1996) was the first Icelandic president wishing to continue who faced an election, in 1988. Ólafur Ragnar also faced opposition in two of his re-election campaigns. Guðni is the first ever Icelandic president to face opposition at the ballot box following his first term in office. 

Icelandic presidents are the head of state and represent Icelandic interests at home and abroad. In many ways, they perform a similar ceremonial role to European monarchs—though elected—and concentrate on uniting the nation in good times and bad.  

While they have little political power, they must sign all new bills from Alþingi into law and have the right to refuse to sign, thereby sending the proposed new law to a public referendum. The function of this part of the constitution went untested for decades as successive presidents chose to remain distant from politics. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was the first president to refuse to sign a new law, and did so twice. The first, a media bill, was withdrawn before a referendum could take place, and the second, on Icesave repayments to the UK and Netherlands during the banking crisis, was rejected by voters. 

Guðni Th. Jóhannesson is widely felt to have brought the office of president back to the non-political, unifying role seen under Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. Guðmundur Franklín, meanwhile, stood this year on a platform of making the role of president more political; saying he would not be afraid to send more laws to referendums when he felt a gulf had appeared between Alþingi and the will of the people. 

Guðmundur Franklín has praised the presidency of Donald Trump, calling him a strong leader, though declining to comment directly on his personality or policies. 

He said on RÚV television tonight that he is thankful for each and every vote he received, calling them votes against corruption and saying he has no regrets and enjoyed the election campaign.

Guðni said the result of Saturday's election indicates the public wants him to continue in a similar manner, though said all presidents change and grow in their role. Asked if he will stand four years from now, he said it is too early to say, but that he has always said he will not be president for more than three terms, or 12 years.

Asked if he ever got angry during this year's campaign, he admitted that criticism of First Lady Eliza Reid's work life annoyed him. Eliza has always been vocal about maintaining her own professional life, separate from her husband's job. First Lady of Iceland is not an official job role, the couple point out. Guðni added that anger is not a good quality for a leader and illustrated his point through sport, saying he is happy for Iceland's many Liverpool fans after their team won the English Premier League, despite not being a fan himself. He also praised Jörgen Klopp for his competitive but unifying and respectful leadership style; emphasising that the game of football and the leadership of nations bear few other similarities.

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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