Leftists win ruling majority in Iceland

Leftists win ruling majority in IcelandReykjavik - Iceland got the first-ever leftist majority in its history in Saturday's parliamentary elections, with final returns giving the Social Democrats and Greens over half the vote and inflicting punishing losses on the conservatives. In the final count, Social Democrats of interim Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, 66, and her Greens coalition partner had garnered 51.5 per cent of the vote. This was a gain of 10.4 percentage points from their showing four years ago.

The Social Democrats' share of the vote was 29.8 per cent, up three percentage points from the last elections. The Greens surged by 7.4 percentage points to 21.7 per cent.

The result gives the leftists an absolute majority of 34 seats in the 63-seat Althing for the first time since Iceland's founding 65 years ago.

The conservative Independence Party, which had been in power for 18 straight years before former premier Geir Haarde stepped down in January in the wake of the country's financial meltdown, saw their support plunge to 23.7 per cent, from 36.6 per cent previously.

The Citizens Party, which emerged from the protest movement at the start of the year, won 7.2 per cent, enough for four deputies in the parliament.

Sigurdardottir said the results were a "reckoning with neoliberalism," and said the most important initial task, besides measures to combat the economic crisis, was to achieve the quickest possible entry into the European Union.

"The election result is a confirmation of this (policy) line," she said.

Prior to the election, the Greens had been opposed to EU membership, with a party official saying Saturday evening "we will now find a good compromise" on the issue.

Political observers in Reykjavik believed that the new government would call a referendum to let voters decide on sending a membership application to the EU.

The previous grand coalition government under Haarde, 58, resigned in January, after Iceland's economy imploded under the pressure of the collapse of three of its over-stretched banks, and mass street protests.

Sigurdardottir, 66, became the world's first openly lesbian head of government when she took over as caretaker prime minister.

Her chief cabinet official was Finance Minister Steingrimur Sigfusson of the Greens, who in recent years had voiced his opposition to the aggressive credit policies of the country's major banks.

Their collapse last autumn led to plunge a plunge in the currency and an emergency bail-out from the International Monetary Fund. (dpa)

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