Over the past 72 hours an incredible series of events has kept the Icelandic people on the edge of their seats and glued to the nearest television set. Facebook is ablaze with speculation and as protests gear up for the fourth day in a row, no one is really sure who is even in charge anymore.
After a confusing email in broken English, which implied that the now former Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, had in fact not stepped down, was sent out by the prime minister’s office Monday night, Sigmundur Davíð formally stepped down at a state council meeting this afternoon.
This followed the accidental announcement that his successor Sigurður Ingi Johannesson’s appointment had been formalized, which was made by fellow Progressive Party MP Höskuldur Þórhallsson late yesterday evening.
Höskuldur had stepped out of a meeting with the parliamentary majority coalition of the Progressive and Independence Parties when he encountered reporters, and in an embarrassing debacle prematurely revealed the results of the meeting.
As is now known, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, currently Minster for Foreign Affairs, will replace Sigurður Ingi as Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture. In turn his previous post will be filled by Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, the former economic advisor to outgoing prime minister Sigmundur Davíð. She has a Master’s Degrees from Columbia University in international economics and worked with the International Monetary Fund in Washington before joining the prime minister’s staff in 2014.
This new administration was officially confirmed by President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson at 3:50 this afternoon.
According to a statement made by Bjarni Benediktsson, chairman for the Independence Party at a press conference yesterday, this makeshift administration will serve until an undetermined date in the fall, when new election will be held, six months ahead of schedule.
Other MPs for the Independence Party have expressed lukewarm approval of the chairman’s decision.
“In this situation there were no good options and this was chairman’s proposal and the chairman’s decision. Time will have to tell how good it will prove. I see no reason not to host new elections as soon as possible if this is the party’s verdict,” said MP Unnur Brá Konráðsdóttir.
Members of parliament then exchanged harsh words during an unannounced round of open questions held at Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, earlier today.
“I want to address the elephant in the room. We are here gathered due to a state of complete anomie in Icelandic politics. These past few days have been an absolute farce which reached its climax with the theatrics that played out in the hallways of Parliament last night,” said Óttarr Proppé, MP for the left leaning Bright Future party, before questioning how the new administration would handle revisions to the current parliamentary code of conduct.
The conversation got personal with a heated exchange between Bjarni, chairman of the Independence Party and rival Árni Páll Árnason, chairman of the centrist Social Democratic Alliance.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented situation in Icelandic politics. And the international media spotlight is turning its attention to Iceland in way it never has before. What sets Iceland apart is that we are currently being led by politicians who have done business in tax havens,” said Árni Páll, directing his comments to Bjarni in particular, who he claimed had failed to live up to his responsibilities as a national leader. “How can he deduce that he himself is the right man to lead the work of restoring Iceland’s honor on the international scene?”
Bjarni retorted by claiming that Árni Páll did not discriminate by those who conduct honorable and transparent international trade and tax evaders.
“Wasn’t it when he was managing director with Búnaðarbankinn that the bank’s board of directors decided to open a branch in Luxembourg?” asked Bjarni, in reference to the bank’s shady dealings in the European tax haven after its merger with Kaupþing bank, which were exposed by WikiLeaks in 2008. The Luxembourg branch’s former chief executive was one of the few bankers to serve time following the 2008 financial collapse.
“My name isn’t in the Panama Papers. I don’t have accounts in the Seychelles,” Árni snapped back. “Why is he attempting to tar everyone else rather than rectify Iceland’s reputation?”
Bjarni then accused Árni Pall of personifying the discussion, to the amusement of those gathered who broke out in laughter.
A motion of no confidence proposed by a coalition of minority leaders in Parliament will be still be discussed on the floor tomorrow at 1 PM. It will likely be voted on sometime late in the afternoon following several hours of discussion.
Sigríður Ingibjörg Ingadóttir, an MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, said that the motion will give those members of parliament representing the majority parties but who are not members of the administration, a chance to explain “whether they support an administration composed of individuals who have owned offshore companies in tax havens.”
The coalition government of the Progressive and Independence Parties currently have 38 party members in parliament, to the minorities 25. Therefore seven majority MPs will have to support the motion for it to pass.