Iceland president wins record fifth term

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson beats main challenger, a well-known television personality, to win another four-year mandate.

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, left, was first elected president in August 1996 and has since served four four-year terms [AFP]
Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, left, was first elected president in August 1996 and has since served four four-year terms [AFP]

Iceland’s president has won a fifth term in office, beating a famous television reporter who had a new baby in the middle of her campaign.

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, a socialist, won 52.78 per cent of the vote against Thora Arnorsdottir’s 33.16 in Saturday’s vote.

Grimsson, a 69-year-old former university professor, has held the largely ceremonial post since 1996, but has courted controversy for taking a more political approach to the role.

“Iceland is now at a crossroads. Behind us are difficult years. Ahead are decisions on the constitution and our relationship with other countries in Europe,” the silver-haired president wrote in an article published in the daily Morgunbladid on voting day.

“There is still turbulence in the continent’s economy and in many areas … The president … shall assist the country in tackling the biggest issues; they will determine the fate of Icelanders for decades,” he wrote.

His challenger, a political novice, had been riding high in the opinion polls before Grimsson decided to seek re-election.

“This has been a valuable experience. Now I will take a holiday, attend to my new daughter and the other children and go on maternity leave and think how I can put this experience to use,” the 37-year-old blonde told public broadcaster RUV.

“To get more than one-third [of votes], I’m overwhelmed. Of course, I hoped to win. This is something you only do once in a lifetime.”

IMF bailout

Arnorsdottir had been seen as a  fresh face at a time when many Icelanders clamoured for a new breed of politicians following the country’s devastating economic crash in 2008.

She interrupted her campaign for a week in May to give birth to her third child.

Grimsson, like a majority of Icelanders, is opposed to EU membership for fear the North Atlantic nation will lose its sovereignty.

The left-wing government applied, however, to join the bloc in 2009 after the financial and economic crash that saw Iceland’s three biggest banks collapse and required a $2.1bn bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Grimsson was subsequently heavily criticised for befriending bankers during the boom years and hailing their entrepreneurial spirit, and was ridiculed for supporting what turned out to be a bubble that burst.

But he vindicated himself in the eyes of the public with his refusal, twice, to sign a bill to use taxpayers’ money to compensate Britain and the Netherlands for the 2008 collapse of online bank Icesave.

While allowed to do so by the constitution, no president had exercised that veto right until Grimsson did so in 2004 over a controversial media law.

Grimsson will now begin a record fifth four-year term in office, though he has won only three presidential elections. In both 2000 and 2008, he was the only candidate and was granted a new term without a vote.

Iceland has had five presidents since its independence from Denmark in 1944, three of whom have served four terms.

Voter turnout was 69.2 per cent.

Source: News Agencies

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