Almost exactly a year on from the last election, the voters of Iceland are heading to the polls earlier than expected once again this weekend. Like his predecessor, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson – forced to resign over revelations in the Panama Papers – Bjarne Benediktsson’s centre-right coalition has fallen apart following a scandal, in this case over the PM’s father’s efforts to have a convicted paedophile pardoned.
It’s a tight race, with the polls putting Benediktsson’s Independence party just ahead of the opposition Left Green Movement, who had led in several polls earlier in the month. The latest Fréttablaðið poll has Independence on 24 percent (up 2 from ten days earlier) to the Green Left’s nineteen (down 8). This would likely translate to around 17 and 14 seats respectively, each needing the support of two or three other parties to reach the 32 needed for a majority in the 63-seat Alþingi.
With the centre and centre right fractured (former PM Gunnlaugsson has broken away to form a new Centre party, currently on around 10 percent) the Social Democratic Alliance is set to make gains. Last year it won just three seats, cutting its representation by two thirds, it having already been halved in the 2013 election. Campaigning on a platform of additional funding for health care and education, more progressive taxation and reforms to fishing quotas, the Fréttablaðið poll has the SDA in third place on 14 percent.
A strong performance by the SDA along with the pro-European Reform party (also up on the last polls to 7.5 percent) could also once again raise the prospect of Iceland’s accession to the EU. It has not been a big issue in the campaign, but should the Social Democrats join a centre-left government, a referendum on membership could become more likely, as the Green Left have said they would not block such a move, though it would likely campaign against joining. On the other hand, a recent Gallup poll indicates Icelanders oppose membership by 60 to 40 percent.
In the UK, the most striking polling fact of the 20 weeks since the snap general election is how little movement there has been in the polls. Despite the government being at war with itself, the threat of a no-deal Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn consolidating his position over the Labour party, the two main parties remain neck and neck, with the latest ICM poll putting them both on 42 percent.
The assumption, given the Conservatives’ travails and the looming disaster of Brexit, that Corbyn is now a dead-cert prime-minister-in-waiting, is misguided. While Corbyn is the bookies’ favourite, the rapidity of the turnaround in his own fortunes last May shows that anything can happen in a campaign, and few things are ever guaranteed in politics.
Over on the other side of the world, Australian politics is in turmoil as the high court has ruled that four senators and one MP, deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, were ineligible to be elected to parliament because they held dual citizenship. The government has lost its one-seat majority, but still has the vote of the Speaker. Independent MP Cathy McGowan has guaranteed supply to the government.
The latest poll from Essential Research indicates that Australian voters are likely to endorse proposals for marriage equality in a non-binding national survey currently under way; in the event of a yes vote, the government has pledged to allow a private member’s bill on the issue to be debated, with both main parties offering a conscience vote to parliamentarians. This is likely to create more angst for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull whose right of centre Liberal party is deeply split on the issue. Australian Labor, under Bill Shorten has managed to build up a steady lead in the opinion polls, the last half dozen surveys all showing a Labor lead in the crucial ‘two party preferred vote’ of between four and eight points. In a country with a preferential voting system, such a result would likely produce a healthy Labor majority in the house of representatives.