Politics of Iceland

The political system of Iceland.
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politics and government of

Politics of the Republic of Iceland take place in the framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President is the head of state, while the Prime Minister of Iceland is the head of government in a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament, the Althingi. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. It is arguably the world's oldest assembly democracy.[1]

Executive branch

Cabinet of Iceland, seat of executive branch.
Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson Independent 1 August 2016
Prime Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson Progressive Party 7 April 2016

Elected to a four-year term, the president has limited powers and is poised in a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat and figurehead.

The prime minister and cabinet exercise most executive functions. The head of government is the prime minister, who, together with the cabinet, takes care of the executive part of government. The cabinet is appointed by the president after general elections to Althing; however, this process is usually conducted by the leaders of the political parties, who decide among themselves after discussions which parties can form the cabinet and how its seats are to be distributed (under the condition that it has a majority support in Althing). Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves in reasonable time does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet himself. This has never happened since the republic was founded in 1944, but in 1942 the regent of the country (Sveinn Björnsson, who had been installed in that position by the Althing in 1941) did appoint a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Björnsson in fact became the country's first president in 1944. The governments of Iceland have almost always been coalitions with two or more parties involved, because no single political party has received a majority of seats in the Althing during Iceland's republican period. The extent of the political powers possessed by the office of the president are disputed by legal scholars in Iceland; several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers but other provisions and traditions suggest differently.

The president is elected every four years (last 2016), the cabinet is elected every four years (last 2013) and town council elections are held every four years (last 2014).

Legislative branch

Parliament of Iceland, seat of legislative branch.

The modern parliament, called "Althing" or "Alþingi", was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish king. It was widely seen as a reestablishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period and suspended in 1799. The Althing is composed of 63 members, elected every 4 years unless it is dissolved sooner. Suffrage for presidential and parliamentary elections is 18 years of age and is universal. Members of the Althing are elected on the basis of proportional representation from six constituencies. Until 1991, membership of the Althing was divided between a lower and upper house but this was changed to a fully unicameral system.

Political parties and elections

For other political parties, see List of political parties in Iceland. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Iceland.

After four four-year terms as the world's first elected woman president, the widely popular Vigdís Finnbogadóttir chose not to run for re-election in 1996. More than 86% of voters turned out in the June 29, 1996 presidential elections to give former leftist party chairman Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson a 41% plurality and relatively comfortable 12% victory margin over the closest of three other candidates. Traditionally limited to 6–12 weeks, Iceland's campaign season was marked by several intensely personal attacks on Grímsson, a former finance minister who tried to erase memories of his controversial support of inflationary policies and opposition to the U.S. military presence at the NATO base in Keflavík. Grímsson successfully has used his largely ceremonial office to promote Icelandic trade abroad and family values at home.

Summary of the 25 June 2016 Icelandic presidential election results
Candidate Party Votes %
Guðni Th. Jóhannesson independent 71,356 38.49
Halla Tómasdóttir independent 50,995 27.51
Andri Snær Magnason independent 26,037 14.04
Davíð Oddsson independent 25,108 13.54
Sturla Jónsson independent 6,446 3.48
Elísabet Jökulsdóttir independent 1,280 0.69
Ástþór Magnússon independent 615 0.33
Guðrún Margrét Pálsdóttir independent 477 0.26
Hildur Þórðardóttir independent 294 0.16
Valid votes 182,608 98.5
Invalid/Blank votes 2,782 1.5
Total 185,390 100.00
Electorate/Turnout 245,004 75.7%
Source: RÚV, MBL
Last election (2012)  Next election (2020)

The next presidential elections will be held in June 2020.

The last parliamentary elections took place on April 27, 2013. The ruling government was the first majority left-wing government. The ruling coalition parties, the Social Democrats and the Left-Green Movement lost 18 seats in Alþingi and lost its majority. The Progressive party was the largest party after the election and formed a coalition with the Independence Party. A total of 193,792 votes were cast constituting 81.4% of the 237,957 electorate.

The results of the 2013 election were as follows:

Summary of the 27 April 2013 Icelandic parliamentary election results
Party Chairperson(s) Votes % ± Seats ±
Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) Bjarni Benediktsson 50,454 26.70 Increase 3.0 19 Increase 3
Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn) Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson 46,173 24.43 Increase 9.6 19 Increase 10
Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin - jafnaðarmannaflokkur Íslands) Árni Páll Árnason 24,292 12.85 Decrease 16.9 9 Decrease 10
Left-Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin - grænt framboð) Katrín Jakobsdóttir 20,546 10.87 Decrease 10.8 7 Decrease 4
Bright Future (Björt framtíð) Guðmundur Steingrímsson 15,583 8.25 6 Increase 4
Pirate Party (Píratar) Collective leadership 9,647 5.10 3 Increase 2
Dawn (Dögun - stjórnmálasamtök um réttlæti, sanngirni og lýðræði) Collective leadership 5,855 3.10 0 Decrease 2
Households Party (Flokkur Heimilanna) Pétur Gunnlaugsson 5,707 3.02 0
Iceland Democratic Party (Lýðræðisvaktin) Collective leadership 4,658 2.46 0
Right-Green People's Party (Hægri Grænir flokkur fólksins) Guðmundur Franklín Jónsson 3,262 1.73 0
Rainbow (Regnboginn, sjálfstæði Íslands og sjálfbæra þróun) Jón Bjarnason (spokesperson) 2,021 1.07 0 Decrease 2
Rural Party (Landsbyggðarflokkurinn) Ylfa Mist Helgadóttir 326 0.17 0
Sturla Jónsson (Sturla Jónsson) Sturla Jónsson 222 0.12 0
Humanist Party (Húmanistaflokkurinn) Júlíus Valdimarsson 126 0.07 0
People's Front of Iceland (Alþýðufylkingin) Thorvaldur Thorvaldsson 118 0.06 0
Valid votes 188,990 97.52
Invalid votes 585 0.30
Blank votes 4,217 2.17
Total 193,792 100.00 63
Electorate/Turnout 237,957 81.44
Source: The Morning Paper, National Broadcasting
Last election (2009)  Next election (2016)

Vote share changes are given compared to the 2009 election results; seat changes are given compared to the distribution immediately before the election.

Political history


In losing four seats in the April 1995 parliamentary elections, the IP and SDP (so called Viðey government) mustered a simple majority in the 63-seat Althing. However, Prime Minister and IP leader Davíð Oddsson chose the resurgent Progressive Party (PP) as a more conservative partner to form a stronger and more stable majority with 40 seats. Splintered by factionalism over the economy and Iceland's role in the European Union (EU), the SDP also suffered from being the only party to support Iceland's EU membership application.


The beginning of the millennium saw a merger of all the left parties to form the Social Democratic Alliance. Some members chose to join another new left party instead, the Left-Green Movement. After the PP's loss in the 2007 elections its longstanding alliance with the IP ended despite still being able to form a majority. Instead the IP's leader Geir Haarde chose a stronger but somewhat unstable coalition with the Social Democrats (the Þingvellir government).

Haarde's administration fell apart in January 2009 and he called for an early election before standing down as party leader. The Social Democrats subsequently formed an interim government with the LGM. In the resulting election, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir's administration prevailed, the first time Icelanders voted for a majority left-wing government.

Judicial branch

The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court (Hæstiréttur) and district courts. Justices are appointed for life by the minister of the interior. The constitution protects the judiciary from infringement by the other two branches.

Administrative divisions

Iceland is divided in 23 counties (sýslur, singular sýsla) and 14 independent towns* (kaupstaðir, singular kaupstaður); Akranes*, Akureyri*, Árnessýsla, Austur-Barðastrandarsýsla, Austur-Húnavatnssýsla, Austur-Skaftafellssýsla, Borgarfjarðarsýsla, Dalasýsla, Eyjafjarðarsýsla, Gullbringusýsla, Hafnarfjörður*, Húsavík*, Ísafjörður*, Keflavík*, Kjósarsýsla, Kópavogur*, Mýrasýsla, Neskaupstaður*, Norður-Ísafjarðarsýsla, Norður-Múlasýsla, Norður-Þingeyjarsýsla, Ólafsfjörður*, Rangárvallasýsla, Reykjavík*, Sauðárkrókur*, Seyðisfjörður*, Siglufjörður*, Skagafjarðarsýsla, Snæfellsnes- og Hnappadalssýsla, Strandasýsla, Suður-Múlasýsla, Suður-Þingeyjarsýsla, Vestmannaeyjar*, Vestur-Barðastrandarsýsla, Vestur-Húnavatnssýsla, Vestur-Ísafjarðarsýsla, Vestur-Skaftafellssýsla

International organization participation

Arctic Council, Australia Group, BIS, CBSS, CE, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EFTA, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, ICC, ICRM, IDA, IEA (observer), IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO, ITU, ITUC, NATO, NC, NEA, NIB, OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNMIK, UNU, UPU, WCO, WEU (associate), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO

See also


  1. Power Struggle. Marguerite Del Giudice. National Geographic. March 2008. p. 85.
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