Though Iceland’s Independence Party and Social Democratic Alliance coalition government has split, it is clear some sort of government has to be in control until the next elections (which are expected in the spring) so the country will not end up rudderless in between. But what sort of government will it be? Some people are calling for a minority coalition, while others want a national unity government. In between, there are those calling for a temporary government made up of non-MPs, while others would rather see the president ask the old government to stay on until the election. So what is the difference between these options?
MBL.is reports that under all normal circumstances, when representatives of the government coalition parties come to the conclusion that they can no longer work together, it is normal for the President to ask the current government to remain in charge as a staff government, or interim government, until a new government has been formed, e.g. after general elections, to ensure the country is not without a government. Such a government should not make any major new political decisions before the upcoming elections.
Most of the governments that have split in Iceland have submitted to the President’s will and remained in place until the election. There are, however, examples of times when the parties’ representatives have not been able to find a way to continue to work together, and a minority coalition has instead been formed. According to information from Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, professor of political science at the University of Iceland, there have only been three minority coalitions in Iceland before.
It is important to note the meaning of ‘minority coalition’: it does not mean that the coalition government is dwarfed by another political party in parliament. The government coalition must always be the largest single group in parliament; but not necessarily with over half of all MPs. The government which resigned yesterday had an unusually large majority of 43 out of a total of 63 MPs.
In today’s case, if there were a Social Democrat/Left Green Party coalition, they would have 27 of parliament’s 63 members working together. With the support of the Progressive Party, that would rise to 34.
In 1949-50 a man called Olafur Thor led an Independence Party minority government, in 1958-59 Emil Jonsson presided over a Popular Party minority government with Independence Party support and in1979-80 the Popular Party took control with Benedikt Grondal as Prime Minister after the left-wing coalition between the Progressive Party, the Popular Alliance and the Popular Party collapsed.