[QODLink]
Europe
Leftists declare victory in Iceland
Preliminary results show the leftist government is headed for a strong victory.
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2009 01:55 GMT

Polls suggest Iceland's current caretaker government will win the election [EPA]

Johanna Sigurdardottir, the prime minister and leader of the pro-EU Social Democratic Party, has claimed victory in Iceland's first general elections.

"I believe this will be our big victory," she told supporters on Sunday.

With 42 per cent of votes counted, projections from state television showed her Social Democrat/Left-Green alliance would win 35 seats, a majority of four in the 63-seat parliament.

The conservative Independence Party leader conceded defeat in what is likely to be the worst election score in the party's history after having resigned in January amid massive protests.

"We lost this time but we will win again later," Bjarni Benediktsson said.

Estimates showed his party took only 22.9 per cent of votes, far below its previous all-time low of 27 per cent from 1987.

The win by the Social Democrat/Left-Green alliance marks the first time centre-left parties have held such a strong position in Iceland.

The previous government fell in January, when protesters took to the streets after the country's three main banks buckled under huge debts run up in order to fund their overseas expansion into financial services.

The ensuing economic crisis saw the value of Iceland's currency plummet and the government, then head by the Independence Party, agreed to a $10bn rescue package led by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The protests pushed the government to resign and the left-wing Social Democrats formed a caretaker government in coalition with the Left-Green party and called the early election.

Economic turmoil

Unemployment and inflation have spiralled in Iceland, and the IMF has predicted that the economy will shrink by about 10 per cent in 2009 - that would be Iceland's biggest slump since it won full independence from Denmark in 1944.

In-depth


 Iceland's new political landscape
 Anger and uncertainty in Iceland
 UK hospice hit by Iceland collapse
 Placing the blame in Iceland

The Social Democrats and the Left-Greens will now need to bridge their differences over joining the European Union.

The Left-Greens are opposed to joining the bloc, while Sigurdardottir supports joining the EU and adopting the euro.

"EU membership application is a priority issue for the Social Democrats," she said on Friday. "It is necessary to achieve stability."

Stiff challenges

Like many other voters, Einar Sigurdsson, an internet entrepreneur, told Al Jazeera that he would be voting for the Social Democrats.

"The Social Democrats have the strategy that I like the most - they will go to the European Union. I think by doing that we will send a signal to the world that we will play with the international community," he said.

"We will also then going to be able to change our currency, and our currency is what has been killing us - it is like gambling today with the Icelandic krona, instead of doing business."

The new government also faces the issues of how to cut budget spending and raise revenues, as well as how to tackle the country's surging unemployment.

About 228,000 people were eligible to cast their ballot in Saturday's elections.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
Featured on Al Jazeera
'Justice for All' demonstrations swell across the US over the deaths of African Americans in police encounters.
Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.
Disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in prison highlights inequality and marginalisation, critics say.
Nearly half of Canadians have suffered inappropriate advances on the job - and the political arena is no exception.
Featured
Women's rights activists are demanding change after Hanna Lalango, 16, was gang-raped on a bus and left for dead.
Buried in Sweden's northern forest, Sorsele has welcomed many unaccompanied kids who help stabilise a town exodus.
A look at the changing face of North Korea, three years after the death of 'Dear Leader'.
While some fear a Muslim backlash after café killings, solidarity instead appears to be the order of the day.
Victims spared by the deadly disease are reporting blindness and other unexpected post-Ebola health issues.