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Iceland gets new centre-right government led by Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson has served as Iceland’s finance minister since 2013 © AFP/File / Halldor KOLBEINS

Reykjavik, Iceland, Jan 10 – A new centre-right coalition in Iceland announced Tuesday it had agreed to make conservative Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson the country’s next prime minister, 10 weeks after a snap election.

Benediktsson, 46, who has served as finance minister since 2013 and was the big winner in October 29 elections, presented the new government at a press conference in Reykjavik with his new coalition partners, the centre-right Reform Party and the centrist Bright Future.

The government programme published by the coalition calls for a possible referendum on European Union membership “towards the end of the legislative period.”

It also dashes any hopes of major institutional reforms, including the ratification of a constitution drawn up by a citizen-led commission in 2010-2012.

Regarding the economy, Benediktsson’s liberal policies are expected to continue. Under his guidance as finance minister, Iceland has seen solid growth and unemployment has been almost eliminated.

The new centre-right government is a blow for the left-wing opposition, which hoped to sweeo to power on a wave of discontent following the April release of the Panama Papers, a trove of documents detailing account holders in offshore tax havens.

In April, a large majority of Icelanders called for the country’s political establishment to be voted out of office, targetting Benediktsson, whose name appeared in the Panama Papers, among others.

But everything changed in the October election: Benediktsson’s Independence Party won 21 of 63 seats in parliament, far ahead of its opponents the Left Green Movement and the anti-establishment Pirate Party, which won 10 seats each.

Iceland’s various parties have been in negotiations since the election to try to form a coalition government.

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