Iceland elects first female majority parliament

Women candidates won 33 of the 63 parliamentary seats.

Iceland’s prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir speaking to the media on Saturday
Iceland’s prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir speaking to the media on Saturday

Iceland has elected a female majority parliament, a watershed moment for gender equality in the island nation, in a vote that saw centrist parties make the biggest gains.

After all votes were counted on Sunday, women candidates held 33 seats in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament, the Althing.

The three parties in the outgoing coalition government led by Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir won a total of 37 seats in Saturday’s vote, two more than in the last election, and appeared likely to continue in power.

The election makes Iceland the only country in Europe, and one of a handful in the world, with a majority of female legislators.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Rwanda leads the world with women making up 61% of its Chamber of Deputies, with Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico narrowly over the 50% mark.

Worldwide, the organisation said that just over a quarter of legislators were women.

The milestone for women in Iceland comes despite a poor outcome for parties on the left, where female candidates are more often frontrunners.

Politics professor Silja Bara Omarsdottir said the gender quotas implemented by left-leaning parties for the past decade had created a new norm across Iceland’s political spectrum.

“It is no longer acceptable to ignore gender equality when selecting candidates,” she said.

People vote at a sports complex in Kopavogur in Iceland
People vote at a sports complex in Kopavogur (Arni Torfason/AP)

Opinion polls had suggested a victory for left-leaning parties in the unpredictable election, which saw 10 parties competing for seats.

But the centre-right Independence Party took the largest share of votes, winning 16 seats, seven of them held by women.

The centrist Progressive Party celebrated the biggest gain, winning 13 seats, five more than last time.

Before the election, the two parties formed Iceland’s three-party coalition government, together with Ms Jakobsdottir’s Left Green Party. Her party lost several seats, but kept eight, outscoring poll predictions.

The three ruling parties have not announced whether they will work together for another term, but given the strong support from voters it appears likely.

It will take days, if not weeks, for a new government to be formed and announced.

People leave a polling station in Reykjavik
People leave a polling station in Reykjavik (Brynjar Gunnarsson/AP)

Climate change had ranked high on the election agenda in Iceland, a glacier-studded volcanic island nation of about 350,000 people in the North Atlantic.

An exceptionally warm summer by Icelandic standards — with 59 days of temperatures above 20C (68F) — and shrinking glaciers have helped drive global warming up the political agenda.

But that did not appear to have translated into increased support for any of the four left-leaning parties that campaigned to cut carbon emissions by more than Iceland is committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement.

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