Yesterday the Icelandic voters went to the polls to decide who would be the country’s president for the next four years and, as expected, the incumbent President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, was elected for a fifth term. The President won more than 50 % of the votes, while his main challenger, 37-year-old TV journalist Thora Arnórsdóttir, won some 33 % of the votes cast.
69-year-old Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who is a political scientist by profession, has been President of Iceland since 1996. He initially announced in his new year’s speech that he would not stand for re-election, but a petition signed by 30,000 voters caused him to change his mind.
At the start of the campaign he trailed in the polls behind the politically inexperienced Thora Arnórsdóttir, but his campaign gained momentum while she was on maternity leave and in recent months polls had predicted the eventual outcome quite accurately.
This means that Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson becomes the first Icelandic President to serve more than four terms in office. The role of President of Iceland is largely ceremonial, but Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has been more politically active than his predecessors and has twice used his right to veto legislation, a right no earlier president had used. During the severe financial crisis which has hit Iceland in recent years, the President has thus distanced himself somewhat from the government. The main political difference between him and Thora Arnórsdóttir was her declared intention to return the presidency to its more passive, non-political role.
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was first elected President, with 41.4 % of the votes, in 1996 in succession to the universally beloved Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. He was re-elected unopposed in 2000, with 67.5 % of the votes in 2004 and again unchallenged in 2008.