Iceland centre-right wins back power

Coalition talks to begin as voters reject austerity in favour of parties that ruled over 2008 financial collapse.

    Iceland's centre-right opposition scored a clear win in the island's parliamentary poll that allowed the two parties to begin negotiations for a coalition government.

    A final count on Sunday showed that the right-wing Independence Party was ahead in the popular vote with 26.7
    percent. That gave it 19 seats in parliament, up from 16.

    Its leader, Bjarni Benediktsson, who claimed the post of prime minister earlier on Sunday, was set to seek a government with the support of the agrarian-centrist Progressive Party, which won 24.4 percent of the vote and 19 legislative seats.

    It was a major comeback for the parties, as Icelandic voters seemingly opted to dump the austerity of the ruling Social Democrats to return a centre-right government that ruled over its financial collapse five years ago.

    Benediktsson,  43, said earlier that he was ready to negotiate a coalition that would lead the country.

    "The Independence Party is called to duty again," Benediktsson told supporters.

    The ousting of the Social Democrat Party-led coalition was seen as a vote against austerity measures and came amid high levels of household debt.

    'Insufficient growth'

    "We are offering an alternative to what the government has been doing for the last four years," Benediktsson told Al Jazeera on election night.

    "They have chosen their path with increased taxes, we are talking about lowering taxes and putting emphasis on growth.

    "We have had insufficient growth in the past few years and this is I think what people are realising is the only way forward."

    Voters shunned the Social Democrat-led coalition that has spent four years trying to turn the country around with painful austerity measures.

    The Social Democrats took nine seats and coalition partners the Left-Greens seven.

    The party leader, Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, who is 70, said before the poll she was retiring.

    Benediktsson said that voters opted for "a plan that would bring us quicker out of the crisis".

    The two centre-right parties presided over the liberalisation of the financial sector which critics said prompted the banking system's collapse in 2008.

    Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the head of the Progressive Party, told supporters the party was back in power.

    Remarkable comeback

    "We will change Iceland for the better very fast in the coming months and years," he said.

    Benediktsson rejected claims by the left-wing Social Democrats, who in coalition with the Left-Green Alliance guided Iceland out of the 2008 financial crisis, said that the centre right was simply offering the same old boom and bust.

    "We are offering a different road, a road to growth, protecting social security, better welfare and job creation," he said.

    The win caps a remarkable comeback for Benediktsson, who has been a member of parliament since 2003 and the chairman of his party since 2009.

    Two weeks ago he considered resigning after record low poll ratings prompted calls for him to hand over his party's leadership to his deputy.

    The avid trout and salmon fisher hails from a wealthy family with extensive business interest and was considered out of touch and tainted by the financial collapse.

    But instead of stepping aside, he fought back with a rare personal television interview that gave voters a glimpse of his human side and propped up his party's ratings.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera And Agencies


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