The Schrödinger’s Prime Minister of Iceland

The Schrödinger’s Prime Minister of Iceland

When the #panamapapers scandal broke the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson, was resolute that he would not resign. Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, backed him up saying that “We aren’t worried at all… It is unfair, impolite to put his (Gunnlaugsson’s) name with a bunch of criminals”. However, the government is a coalition the Progressive Party (where Sigmundur is chairperson) and the Independence party. The chairperson of the Independence party, Bjarni Benediktsson, stated however, that he was not sure if the government could continue.

Sigmundur Davið co-owned a company together with his current wife that had a vested interest in the fall-out from the Icelandic banks, something that was never disclosed to parliament according to Icelandic laws. The Prime Minister has “made a name for himself defending the collapse of his country’s financial system against the demands of foreign creditors, whom he has repeatedly characterised as ‘vultures'”. Now it turns out that his own wife is one of these “vultures”.

The demands of his resignation were getting loud with almost 7% of the Icelandic population on the street protesting against the government and especially against the Prime Minister. The opposition partners have demanded a vote of no confidence. After a while even some of the electorate branches of the two governing parties said that he could not remain as Prime Minister. One of Sigmundur Davið’s close allies spoke out against him. Ólafur Elíasson, spokesperson for the network, in defence, said that it was impossible to have a Prime Minister with connections to assets in a tax haven.

On Tuesday afternoon came the news that the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson, had resigned but would remain as leader of the Progressive Party. The Prime Minister had also spoken with the President to ask for a snap-election but this was denied since other parties had not been notified. This play by the President seemed to have been a way for him to try and force the Independence party to remain in coalition with him. The conversation between the President and Prime Minister ended with both of them accusing the other of lying about what happened.

After the news broke, that the Prime Minister would be resigning, it was announced that the current Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannson, would become the new Prime Minister. However, a poll from mid-March shows that only 3% of the respondents put their trust in Sigurður Ingi (when asked which minister they had most trust in of 10 given options). This further accentuates the rift between the current government and the population bychoosing someone with such a weak standing to take the role as Prime Minister and to build up the Icelandic people’s trust again. The opposition parties immediately rejected this proposed plan.

Bjarni Benediktsson, chairperson of the Independence Party, may seem like the obvious choice as the new Prime Minister (he had the trust of 40% of respondents a mere month ago) . However, he has also been revealed in the #panamapapers as owning an off-shore company and hasn’t voiced any interest yet in filling the shoes as Prime Minister. During an interview Bjarni Benediktsson clarified that the difference between his off-shore company and that of the Prime Minister was that Sigmundur Davið’s wife still had an active company with claims on the crashed Icelandic banks.

An unexpected twist of events happened in the evening when the office of the Prime Minister issued a statement that Sigmundur Davið had never resigned(!) but rather had stepped down in favor of his deputy “for an unspecified amount of time” and remained chairperson of the Progressive Party. It is uncertain if the Schrödinger Prime Minister will succeed in his attempts to avoid a formal resignation when facing the continued protests from the Icelandic population.

Featured image: Modified from CC-NC-SA, SewPixie
Credit for title idea: Ásta Guðrún Helgadóttir

edit: 6/4, clarified that the 3% trust was which minister the respondents had most trust in.