Scandal-hit Icelandic party clinches largest vote in election

Bjarni Benidiksson of the conservative Independence Party. 
Icelanders voted Saturday in a close general election marked by deep distrust of the scandal-hit political class despite a thriving economy, with the left wing hoping to oust conservative Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson. Picture: HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images
Bjarni Benidiksson of the conservative Independence Party. Icelanders voted Saturday in a close general election marked by deep distrust of the scandal-hit political class despite a thriving economy, with the left wing hoping to oust conservative Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson. Picture: HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images
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Iceland’s ruling Independence Party has unexpectedly won the largest share of the vote in their national election and now faces the difficult task of forming a government after a record eight parties took seats in parliament.

Despite topping the poll, the Independence Party won just 25 per cent of the vote in its second worst showing ever at an election.

The Left Green Movement finished second with 17 per cent. That means Independence will need the support of at least two other parties to form a majority government.

The upstart People’s Party and Centre Party both exceeded expectations, winning 7 per cent and 11 per cent of the vote respectively.

Political analyst Gunnar Smari Egilsson said: “Everyone lost. The current opposition gained no seats while the ruling collation lost 12 seats. Populists alone triumphed.”

Icelanders voted for the third time in four years on Saturday as the nation tried to shake off the latest political crisis on an island roiled by divisions since its economy was ravaged by the global financial crisis.

Voters weary of political and economic chaos were not expected to produce an outright winner. Polls suggest the election will only lead to complex negotiations over building a coalition government.

A record eight parties could cross the 5 per cent threshold needed to qualify for seats in the Icelandic parliament, known as the Althingi.

Upstart parties are benefiting from a series of scandals affecting the ruling Independence Party.

Political analysts said the most likely outcome would be a coalition government led by Katrin Jakobsdottir of the Left Green Movement. The 41-year-old would be among the world’s youngest leaders.

The election, which played out on themes of stability and trust, was called in September amid allegations the Prime Minister’s father backed an effort to aid the job prospects of a convicted paedophile.

Bjarni Benediktsson’s government had come to power only last year after leaked documents linked his predecessor to bank accounts in offshore tax havens.

Economic upheaval has dogged this Nordic island nation of 330,000 after its debt-swollen banks collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis. It is now experiencing a surge in tourism by those eager to see its pristine glaciers, fjords, waterfalls and the Northern Lights.

But Icelanders are worried that the worst is not yet over. Voters complained on social media of deja vu, saying there was a revolving door of political leaders and few new ideas.