That escalated quickly: Iceland appoints new PM, plans snap elections as Pirate Party’s ratings soar

Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, minister of fisheries and agriculture of the Progressive Party who was named as new prime minister by two government coalition parties speaks in Reykjavik, Iceland on April 6, 2016 © Sigtryggur Johannsson
The Icelandic center-right coalition appointed Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, the deputy chairman of disgraced PM Gunlaugsson’s Progressive Party, as the country’s new prime minister and scheduled early elections for autumn in the wake of Panama Papers leaks.

Following consultations between the Progressive and Independence parties, which currently form Iceland’s coalition government, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson was announced as the country’s new PM, replacing Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign amid mass public protests held earlier on Tuesday which were called after leaks from the “Panama Papers” suggested that he owned an offshore firm.

“We expect to have elections this autumn,” Johannsson told reporters on Wednesday. The elections were originally set to take place in April of 2017.

Despite increased public pressure and calls for the government to be immediate dissolved, the new PM said that his government is going to proceed with its duties up to the new elections.

“We will continue our work together. We are of course hoping this will help bring stability in the political system,” Johannsson stressed. In order to officially assume his new office, he must now receive formal approval from the country’s president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. The decision is due to be taken on Thursday.

In the meantime, the left-wing opposition stressed that it would not give up on its attempts to force a no-confidence vote on the government, which has, in their view, irrevocably discredited itself.

“There is a consensus between the opposition parties that we will push the vote of no-confidence,” said Birgitta Jonsdottir, the leader of the libertarian Pirate Party, adding that with only “26 percent” of Icelanders trusting the ruling government, there is no point in keeping it. 

Her party, which took only three out of 63 seats in the 2013 parliamentary elections after passing a 5 percent threshold by only 0.1 percent, is now riding high in the polls.

A opinion survey published by several Icelandic media outlets puts the Pirate Party’s public support at a staggering 43 percent, while the PM’s Progressive Party is said to command only 7.9 percent, a far cry from the 24 percent it received in the previous election. The Independence Party also trails the ‘pirates,’ attracting support from only 21.6 percent of the electorate.

According to a Gallup poll conducted ahead of the Gunnlaugsson’s removal, a whopping 81 percent Icelanders wanted the PM to resign.

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Gunnlaugsson’s resignation on Tuesday was triggered by revelations indicating that he and his wife had set up an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands to avoid paying taxes in Iceland.

Although the ex-PM adamantly denied that he or his wife had violated Icelandic law or were complicit in tax fraud, he eventually stepped down for an “unspecified amount of time,” according to a press release issued on Tuesday.

Icelanders outraged by the allegations and Gunlaugsson’s handling of the scandal have rallied in front of the National Assembly three days in a row, demanding immediate elections.

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