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Iceland almost gets female-majority parliament

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Iceland briefly celebrated electing a female-majority parliament on Sunday, before a recount showed there will still be more men than women in the chamber, state broadcaster RUV reported.

The initial vote count had female candidates winning 33 seats in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament, the Althing, in an election that saw centrist parties make the biggest gains.

Hours later, a recount in northwestern Iceland changed the outcome, leaving female candidates with 30 seats, a tally previously reached at Iceland’s second-most recent election, in 2016.

Still, at almost 48 percent of the total, that is the highest percentage for women legislators in Europe. On the continent, Sweden and Finland have 47 percent and 46 percent women’s representation in parliament, respectively.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Rwanda leads the world with women making up 61 percent of its Chamber of Deputies, with Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico on or just over the 50 percent mark. Worldwide, the organisation says just over a quarter of legislators are women.

Iceland, a North Atlantic island of 371,000 people, was ranked the most gender-equal country in the world for the 12th year running in a World Economic Forum (WEF) report released in March.

“The female victory remains the big story of these elections,” politics professor Olafur Hardarson told RUV after the recount.

Iceland’s Finance Minister, leader and top candidate of the Icelandic Independence Party Bjarni Benediktsson (left) and party delegates react to the results being shown on a monitor in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, on September 25, 2021, during the country’s parliamentary elections to elect members of the Althing [Halldor Kolbeins/ AFP]

Iceland’s voting system is divided into six regions and the recount in western Iceland was held following a tight contest in the northwest constituency, according to Ingi Tryggvason, the head of the electoral commission there.

“We decided to hold a recount because the result was so close,” Tryggvason told the AFP news agency, adding that no one had requested the recount.

The move did not affect the overall election result.

The three parties in the outgoing coalition government led by Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir won a total of 37 seats in Saturday’s vote, two more than in the last election.

The coalition has brought Iceland four years of stability after 10 years of political crises, but Jakobsdottir’s Left-Green Movement emerged weakened after losing ground to its right-wing partners, which both posted strong showings.

The Left-Green Movement won only eight seats, three fewer than in 2017, raising questions about Jakobsdottir’s future as prime minister.

The centre-right Independence Party took the largest share of votes, winning 16 seats, seven of them held by women. The centrist Progressive Party celebrated the biggest gain, winning 13 seats, five more than last time.

The three parties have not announced whether they will work together for another term, but given the strong support from voters, it appears likely. It will take days, if not weeks, for a new government to be formed and announced.

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir and top candidate of the Left-Green Movement casts a ballot at a polling station in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik on September 25, 2021 [Halldor Kolbeins/ AFP]

Speaking to private broadcaster Stod 2 on Sunday, Jakobsdottir refused to be drawn on the coalition’s future discussions, saying only that her government had received “remarkable” support in the election.

Progressive Party leader Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson and Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson said they were open to discussing a continuation of the coalition.

Benediktsson told Stod 2 it was “normal for parties that have worked together for four years and had good personal relations” to try to continue together.

But he told public broadcaster RUV he was not sure they would succeed.

He also said he would “not demand” the post of prime minister.

The unusual coalition mixing left and right came about in a bid to bring stability after years of political upheaval.

Deep public distrust of politicians amid repeated scandals sent Icelanders to the polls five times between 2007 and 2017.

This is the first time since 2003 that a government has retained its majority.

Climate change had ranked high on the election agenda in Iceland due to an exceptionally warm summer by Icelandic standards – with 59 days of temperatures above 20C (68F) – and shrinking glaciers.

But that did not appear to have translated into increased support for any of the four left-leaning parties that campaigned to cut carbon emissions by more than Iceland is committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement.

One candidate who saw her victory overturned by the recount was law student Lenya Run Karim, a 21-year-old daughter of Kurdish immigrants who ran for the anti-establishment Pirate Party.

“These were a good nine hours,” said Karim, who would have been Iceland’s youngest-ever legislator.

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