“It is not evident that the government will remain in power,” was the cryptic answer from minister of finance and leader of the Independence party Bjarni Benediktsson earlier today. Tonight, the Progressive councillors on the Akureyri city council issued a statement pointing out that prime minister and their leader Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson has lost all trust and should resign. – It now seems that tomorrow the Independence party will tell Gunnlaugsson that he no longer has their support. The will set in motion events not entirely easy to predict.
As Benediktsson unceremoniously refused to lend prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson his support he did indeed spell the end of the government – it makes no sense for Benediktsson to sow the seeds of uncertainty unless he means to harvest a political opportunity. This also seems to be the mood in his parliamentary group: there is not the slightest wish or will to save Gunnlaugsson’s political skin. However, how it will end and what the process will be out of this uncertainty is… uncertain, to say the very least.
Benediktsson was absent from the political scene today as he has been in his family flat in Florida. He claimed he lost his flight on Sunday though the news-site Kjarninn investigated the matter and found no reported delays on Benediktsson’s route to Iceland.
It was in a phone call with Icelandic media that Benediktsson stated his lack of support for Gunnlaugsson. The parliamentary group had met and no doubt this is what he gathered from his troops.
This leaves it all but evident what now will happen: there is no appetite within the Independence parliamentary group to support Gunnlaugsson after his newly acquired international fame – too many Icelanders were utterly dismayed to see the documents counteracting his version of the Wintris story, his efforts over the last two weeks to blame the media for negative reporting and finally how he dealt with the challenge from the Swedish journalist who interviewed him.
So many Icelanders feel that the good reputation Iceland built up following the 2008 crisis has now been if not destroyed then at least blemished. Seeing the prime minister in Alþingi today refusing to acknowledge that the BVI, where his wife’s company is registers, is on the Ministry of finance list of tax havens and claiming that also Sweden is a tax haven didn’t sound like a winning argument.
Theoretically, Gunnlaugsson can now resign but he can also call election and resign. There is zero appetite in the Independence party to see Gunnlaugsson lead a minority government. There might however be willingness among the some of the other parties to form a government under Benediktsson’s premiership.
Tough the Pirates will no doubt call for elections right away they might not be too unhappy to gain time in order to strengthen their party organisation and recruit candidates in order to lessen their unavoidable growing pain.
The question is how damaging the Panama papers will prove for Benediktsson given the fact that Gunnlaugsson will be stepping down due to his offshore connections. Another question is what role president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson will play – after all, Grímsson chose Gunnlaugsson over Benediktsson who won more votes at the 2013 elections; the two parties got the same number of MPs but Grímsson’s argument for choosing Gunnlaugsson was that his party had gained more from the 2009 election.
This and that might happen in Icelandic politics in the coming day – the course is by no means clear – but it now seems certain that the event triggering it all will be the resignation of prime minister Gunnlaugsson and that starting point is likely to take place tomorrow. When his resignation comes it will be the first political casualty of the Panama leak – after the events of 2008 there is little sympathy in Iceland for a leading politician playing hide and seek, in and out of tax havens, with the nation.
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