Iceland center-right takes commanding lead in elections | News | DW | 28.04.2013
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Iceland center-right takes commanding lead in elections

Early returns have put Iceland's center-right in the lead, four years after they were ousted from power under the shadow of a financial crisis. A center-right victory would likely sink Iceland's bid to join the EU.

The Independence and Progressive parties appeared poised on Sunday to return to power in Reykjavik, promising to write off mortgage debt and lower taxes after years of biting austerity measures.

With 77 percent of the vote counted, media reported that the Independence Party would win 20 seats, while the Progressive Party would have 19 seats.

The incumbent Social Democratic Alliance and Left-Green Movement would secure 10 and eight seats, respectively, and the Bright Future party would win 6 seats. Iceland's parliament, the Althingi, has 63 seats total.

"We are very happy, we are very grateful for the support that we see in the numbers," said Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson (pictured above), a potential candidate for prime minister.

"These are early numbers, but we are almost certainly very grateful for the support," Benediktsson said.

Both the Independence and Progressive Parties oppose Reykjavik's bid to join the European Union. The center-left incumbents launched that bid, after Iceland's currency tanked in the aftermath of the collapse of its banking sector.

Austerity-weary population

The Independence and Progressive Parties, which had governed Iceland for nearly 30 years, were ousted from power after the 2008 financial crisis devastated the country's economy. The two parties were widely blamed for lax regulations that allowed Iceland's banking sector to grow to 10 times the island nation's gross domestic product (GDP).

"People seem to have a very short memory," Halldor Gudmundsson, 44, told Reuters news agency after casting his ballot. "These are the parties that got us into the mess in the first place."

The incumbent Social Democrats and their junior coalition partner the Left-Greens came to power in 2009, promising to fix the country's economy. While unemployment has fallen and the economy is growing, four years of tax hikes and spending cuts have proved unpopular with many voters in Iceland. Inflation remains high and many Icelanders are still struggling to repay home and car loans.

"We've seen what cutbacks have done for our healthcare system and social benefits… now it's time to make new investments, create jobs and start growth," Benediktsson said.

slk/ch (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)