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Viewing cable 09REYKJAVIK57, ICELAND: POLITICAL PARTY PRIMARIES MOSTLY REGENERATE THE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09REYKJAVIK57 2009-03-17 16:04 2011-01-13 05:05 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Reykjavik
VZCZCXRO1854
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHRK #0057/01 0761614
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171614Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4026
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 REYKJAVIK 000057 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL IC
SUBJECT:  ICELAND: POLITICAL PARTY PRIMARIES MOSTLY REGENERATE THE 
USUAL SUSPECTS 
 
Ref: Reykjavik 053 
 
1.  (U) Summary:  Iceland's largest round of party primary elections 
ahead of the April 25 Althingi elections were held this past 
weekend. Public calls for renewal of candidate lists did not produce 
the intended results and many incumbent MPs won reelection on their 
party lists. Voter turnout at the primaries was far below average, 
and could explain the lack of new faces. The primaries confirmed the 
arrival of a new generation of leaders on the scene as many in the 
old guard have announced their retirement from politics lately. PM 
Sigurdardottir won a large victory in the SDA primary in Reykjavik, 
which was thought to be enough push for her to declare her candidacy 
for the SDA chair, but she has not made any announcements yet. Hopes 
that new political movements would spring up appear to be unfounded 
as the four largest parties rule the political landscape, but 
forecasts for the April 25 vote are unclear as there are still many 
undecided voters.  End Summary. 
 
2.  (U) During the weekend of March 13-15, Iceland's four largest 
political parties held most of their primary elections to determine 
the lineup of their candidates in the upcoming parliamentary 
elections. The parties also released the results of mail-in vote 
primaries that took place last week. The results mostly confirmed 
the position of incumbent MPs but cleared the road for rising 
leaders in the two major parties. In the Southwest Constituency, MP 
Arni Pall Arnason (and former Deputy Chairman of the parliamentary 
Foreign Affairs Committee), won the first seat on the Social 
Democratic Alliance (SDA) ballot. His name has been tossed around as 
a potential future party leader. Prime Minister Johanna 
Sigurdardottir took the Reykjavik SDA primary by storm, followed by 
incumbent MPs and three non-MPs in the top seats. Sigurdardottir was 
widely expected to declare her candidacy this week for SDA Chair 
after this dominant showing. A new party leadership will be elected 
at the SDA national congress to be held on March 26-29. 
 
3.  (SBU) Sigurdardottir's imitation of Hamlet has taken on new 
significance now that several days have passed since the Reykjavik 
primary without an announcement from the PM.  An SDA MP posited 
before the weekend that Sigurdardottir "just isn't that interested" 
in being party chair and would have preferred to retire at the end 
of the current Althingi term.  A close associate of outgoing party 
chair Gisladottir said that Gisladottir's departure had been a major 
blow to the PM, not just to the party, and that Sigurdardottir had 
little enthusiasm for the challenge without having her close friend 
Gisladottir nearby.  SDA stalwarts have since pressured 
Sigurdardottir very publicly to change her mind; one hundred and 
fifty of Sigurdardottir's most fervent supporters are planning a 
highly publicized event where they will present her with their 
signatures stating their support.  This seems to have been somewhat 
successful as Sigurdardottir now claims to be thinking about the 
possibility of running. 
 
4.  (U) A new generation of Independence Party (IP) leaders, MP 
Bjarni Benediktsson and MP Illugi Gunnarsson, won the first seats in 
the Southwest Constituency and the Reykjavik Constituency, 
respectively.  Benediktsson is the only candidate for the chair of 
the IP after his competition, former MinHealth Gudlaugur Thor 
Thordarson, confirmed his intention not to run for chair over the 
weekend.  Benediktsson has long been rumored to have his eyes on the 
chairmanship of the party. He is from a staunch IP family, including 
a relative of the same name who was Prime Minister and Minister of 
Justice in the 1960s, as well as former Minister of Justice Bjorn 
Bjarnason, who will retire from politics this April. Another young 
IP politician and possible future leader, MP Ragnheidur Elin 
Arnadottir, had a dominant showing in the South Constituency and 
leads the IP list there. 
 
5.  (SBU) Voter participation in the primaries was much lower than 
in 2007, and there was only a 40-50 percent turnout in each district 
on average. In some cases this means that the election is not 
binding and that boards of constituent councils may change the final 
lineup. Protests here through the fall and winter have been 
noteworthy in calling for new candidates to declare their candidacy 
for the upcoming parliamentary elections.  However, even though 
there were many more candidates this time compared with 2007, the 
results of the primaries proved disappointing to those calling for 
changes since many incumbent MPs seem set to continue in office. 
Only a few newcomers from this weekend's primaries are likely to 
secure a seat in the parliament. Perhaps the most notable of these 
is Tryggvi Thor Herbertsson -- an economist and former economic 
advisor to PM Geir Haarde -- who won the second seat in the IP's 
primary in the Northeast Constituency. 
 
6.  (U) The polling agencies are already churning out the 
pre-election opinion polls, with the most recent released on March 
13 showing the three largest parties all running very close. 
According to the Gallup poll, the IP has 28.8 percent support and 
the SDA 28.3 percent, well within the poll's margin of error. The 
Left-Green Movement has 25.7 percent support.  The Progressive Party 
 
REYKJAVIK 00000057  002 OF 002 
 
 
has 12.6 percent, and the Liberal Party 1.6 percent (well below the 
five percent threshold needed to earn a seat in the Althingi).  The 
poll also held bad news for two new political movements, the Union 
of Independent Candidates and the Citizens' Movement, whose combined 
support was just over two percent.  However, the number of undecided 
voters remains high at 20 percent.  A slightly larger group said 
they supported the government now than did in the last Gallup poll, 
which was conducted at the end of last month:  58.3 percent now, up 
from 57.1 percent in the last poll. 
 
7. (SBU) Comment: Some of Iceland's foremost political commentators 
said that the results of this past weekend's primaries signified an 
important generational shift, where many new up and coming leaders 
have finally been elected into the top ranks of their parties. 
However, these commentators seem to be overlooking the fact that 
voter turnout was very low compared to recent years. Moderate 
advertising brought on by the short campaign and hard financial 
times can perhaps explain this, but another convincing reason could 
be general voter lethargy and lack of confidence in Icelandic 
politics. Recent poll results appear to support this argument since 
the number of undecided voters is still quite high, and the leading 
parties are all running very close. The primaries also confirmed 
that the Independence Party is likely to maintain its trans-Atlantic 
outlook -- both Benediktsson and IP Vice Chair Thorgerdur Katrin 
Gunnarsdottir, who is largely unopposed in her reelection bid, favor 
strong ties with the U.S.  To the likely disappointment of some in 
the IP, however, they are also both strong proponents of Icelandic 
membership in the EU.  As for the Prime Minister's SDA, the 
weekend's results only increased the pressure on Sigurdardottir to 
step forward as the new party chair.  Her reluctance to do so is 
palpable, but we believe the utter lack of any alternative 
leadership within the party will win her over in the end.  End 
Comment. 
 
VAN VOORST