Bjarni Benediktsson re-elected Independence Party leader

The leader of Iceland’s biggest opposition party was yesterday voted to remain in his job after a hard-fought leadership battle with Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir.

The vote took place yesterday at the Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokurinn) national convention. A total of 1,323 party faithful voted in the leadership election — 727 votes for Bjarni and 577 votes for Hanna Birna. That gave a final tally of 55 percent against 45 percent, mbl.is reported.

“I am unendingly thankful to you all for the huge and important support which I have been given to continue leading the biggest, strongest and most important political force in Iceland,” Bjarni told the conference after his victory had been announced.

The result was more of an endorsement for Bjarni than had been expected by many in the party. Hanna Birna’s leadership campaign had many prominent supporters and was a genuine threat. University of Iceland political scientist Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson told Vísir.is that Hanna Birna is more popular with Independence Party voters, but that everyday citizens are a different group to party conference delegates and that it is clear the party machinery still works tirelessly for Bjarni Benediktsson.

Bjarni Benediktsson said he believes the leadership battle had been good for the party and added that he is sure his ongoing working relationship with Hanna Birna will be just as good as it has always been.

Hanna Birna also took to the podium and gave a speech congratulating Bjarni and calling on all Independence Party members to support him fully in his work.

She added, however, that she could not deny she would rather the result had been different, and that it is still her opinion that the party needs a change of leadership.

She said that many among the party faithful had encouraged her to stand for leader and that it had been the right decision, despite her eventual defeat.

Ólöf Nordal was re-elected as the party’s deputy leader at the conference with 80 percent of votes cast.

In other conference news, the Independence Party delegates twice voted not to withdraw Iceland’s European Union application in two separate and slightly different votes. The conservative Independence Party is largely against EU membership (although some members are pro) and many have called for a stop to accession talks right away. Delegates did however vote for the party to call for a halt to EU negotiations, which would remain on hold until such time as a national referendum calls for talks to be taken up again. There is, apparently, a subtle difference between cancelling outright and pausing indefinitely.