Some facts should be pointed out:
- The President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, was one of the leaders of the left wing during his time in party politics. He was chairman of the People’s Alliance a socialist party that had between 10 and 15% of the vote. Traditionally, Icelandic presidents have tried to stay above party politics. One of Ólafur Ragnar’s fiercest enemies in Icelandic politics was Davíd Oddsson, chairman of the right wing Independence Party and Prime Minister for more than 13 years. The two are now united in their opposition to the Icesave-deal.
- Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, Minister of Finance was also a member of the People’s Alliance during Ólafur Ragnars chairmanship. However Steingrímur and Ólafur Ragnar were opponents within the party. Another of Ólafur Ragnars opponents within the People’s Alliance was Svavar Gestsson, Chairman of the Icesave negotiating team. President Ólafur Ragnar may not be overly concerned that his old enemies within the party are now on the defensive.
- The leader of the biggest opposition party, Bjarni Benediktsson of the Independence Party said before the Presidents decision that the President should sign all laws coming from Althingi, Iceland’s Parliament. This is in spite of the fact that the Independence Party fought against the law. On the other hand the Independence Party supported a law set in August about a state guarantee for Icesave. This compromise was signed by the President, but rejected by the Dutch and British governments.
- The President did not consult any of the opposition leaders before reaching his decision. He did talk to four cabinet members and the head of the Central Bank, all of whom probably urged him not to use his veto power.
- The President has always been isolated and during his political career he did not make any close friends or allies. It seems unlikely that he decided not to sign because of any personal contact. He was urged to do so by approximately 60 thousand voters, about 25% of the electorate in Iceland.
- Because of the close support of the President for some of Iceland’s leading businessmen, including owners of the Landsbanki (the Icesave-bank) Björgólfur Gudmundsson and his son Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson, he has become more controversial than before. He may be seeking the spotlight as Iceland’s savior in this very difficult situation.
At this moment nobody in Iceland knows what will happen next. The left wing government of Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir may decide to resign. Former Foreign Minister Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson urged the government to do so on Stöd 2 television this evening. Althingi will probably be called together from winter recess very soon. At any rate it must be decided how and when the national vote on the Icesave-law will be held. The constitution says it should be held at the soonest possible opportunity.
Meanwhile, the President is going to India to receive an award from the so-called Nehru foundation. Foreign Minister Össur Skarphédinsson said this afternoon that he would not be travelling with the President as previously announced. Finance Minister Sigfússon, clearly angered, said that cabinet would not let the President’s travels affect its actions.
The Independence Party suggested this fall that the EU should mediate a new agreement between Iceland and the Dutch and British governments. This might be the path to a solution to a dilemma that most Icelanders want to put behind them.