ⓘ Independence Party (Iceland)

Independence Party (Iceland)

ⓘ Independence Party (Iceland)

The Independence Party is a liberal-conservative, Eurosceptic political party in Iceland. It is currently the largest party in the Alþingi, with 16 seats. The chairman of the party is Bjarni Benediktsson. The secretary of the party is Aslaug Arna Sigurbjornsdottir.

It was formed in 1929 through a merger of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. This united the two parties advocating the dissolution of the Union of Denmark and Iceland; dissolution was achieved in 1944, during the German occupation of Denmark. From 1929, the party won the largest share of the vote in every election until the 2009 election, when it fell behind the Social Democratic Alliance. Until Bjarni took the leadership after the 2009 defeat, every Independence Party leader has also held the office of Prime Minister. Since 2013, the Independence Party has joined the coalition government.

The Independence Party broadly encompasses all centre-right thought in Iceland. Economically liberal and opposed to interventionism, the party is supported most strongly by fishermen and high-earners, particularly in Reykjavik. It supports Icelandic membership of NATO but opposes the idea of joining the European Union EU. It is a member of the International Democrat Union, and it joined the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists AECR in November 2011, a centre-right Eurosceptic European political party.


1. History

The Independence Party was founded on 25 May 1929 through a merger of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. It readopted the name of the historical Independence Party, which had split between the Conservatives and Liberals in 1927. From its first election, in 1931, it was the largest party in Iceland.

The Independence Party won the 2007 elections, increasing their seat tally in the Althing by 3. It formed a new coalition government under Geir Haarde with the Social Democratic Alliance, after the Progressive Party lost heavily in the elections. In the 2009 elections, the party dropped from 25–26 to 16 seats in the Althing, becoming Icelands second-largest party following the Social Democratic Alliance which gained two seats, to 20.

The Independence Party re-entered government after the general elections in 2013, gaining 19 seats in parliament and the most votes again becoming Icelands largest party. The Independence Party hence formed a majority government with the Progressive Party with Bjarni becoming Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs under the premiership of Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson chairman of the Progressive Party. The government coalition was ended after the Panama Papers revealed that Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, Bjarni Benediktsson and other known members of the Independence Party held funds in offshore bank accounts. The general election in 2016 yielded a government consisting of the Independence Party, Bright Future and the Reform Party. With the Independence Party holding 21 seats in Parliament. That government then proceeded to fall apart due to Bjarni Benediktssons fathers ties to a convicted child sex offender that had his criminal records cleared by the Minister of the interior, an Independence Party MP. After the general elections 2017, called after much backlash from this decision, the Independence party formed a new government with the Left-Green Movement and the Progressive Party. The Independence Party now holds 16 seats in Parliament.


2. Ideology

The party has been the sole major politically right-leaning party in Iceland since its inception, and has captured a broad cross-section of centre-right voters. As a result, the party is not as far to the right as most right-wing parties in Scandinavia, serving as a catch-all party. The party, like the British Conservatives, states a claim to be primarily pragmatic, as opposed to ideological, and its name is seen as an allusion to being independent of dogma the original meaning - independence from Denmark - having been achieved long ago. For most of its period of political dominance, the party has relied upon coalition government, and has made coalitions with many major parties in parliament.

The Independence Party has generally been economically liberal and advocated limited government intervention in the economy. It was originally committed to laissez-faire economics, but shifted its economic policies left-wards in the 1930s, accepting the creation of a welfare state.

The party is social liberal on social issues and has historically been less conservative than other centre-right parties in Scandinavia. The party was the only consistent advocate for the end of prohibition of beer, and provided three-quarters of voters in favour of legalisation; the ban was lifted in 1989.

The partys skeptic position on EU membership was confirmed at its national congress in March 2009. Its near-permanent position as Icelands largest party has guaranteed Icelands Atlanticist stance. The party is in favour of allowing Icelanders to participate in peacekeeping missions, including in Afghanistan.


3. Political support

Historically, the party has been the most successful liberal conservative party in the Nordic countries. It has a broad base of support, but is most strongly supported by Icelands large fishing community and by businesses. On the largest divide in Icelandic politics, between urban and rural areas, the Independence Party is firmly supported by rural areas, but its urban support is mostly found in Gardabær and Kopavogur.

The Independence Party has always attempted to avoid appealing to a specific social class. As such, the party is relatively successful at attracting working-class voters, which partly comes from the partys strong advocacy of independence in the 1930s. However, most of its strength is in the middle class, and the party is disproportionately supported by those on high incomes and those with university educations.

The party has long been endorsed by Morgunbladid, an Icelandic newspaper of record. David Oddsson, the longest-serving Prime Minister, is one of two editors of the paper. The paper was also historically supported by the afternoon newspaper Visir, now part of DV.


4. Organisation

The party has a tradition of individualism and strong personalities, which has proven difficult for the leadership to manage. The Commonwealth Party split in 1941, while the Republican Party left in 1953, both in opposition to the leftwards shift of the party away from classical liberalism. Neither splinter group managed to get seats in Althingi and vanished quickly. The Citizens Party split from the party in 1983, but collapsed in 1994.

Its youth wing, Young Independents, is by far the largest youth organisation in Iceland, with over 12.000 members. It is slightly more classically liberal than the senior party.

The party has a very large membership base, with 15% of the total population being a member of the party.


5. International relations

For years the Independence party was a member of the EPP that include members like Hoyre Norway, Moderate Party Sweden, les Republicains France, the Kokoomus Finland, and CDU Germany. But with a new more Eurosceptic leadership of the party it joined the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists AECR in November 2011, a centre-right Eurosceptic political organization. Members of the AECR, includes among others, the British Conservative Party, Polish Law and Justice, and the Czech Civic Democratic Party.