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Polls have closed in Iceland for an election expected to return the right to power four years after it lost in the wake of financial catastrophe. The victory would likely end Iceland's negotiations for EU membership.
The last poll published before voting began Saturday gave Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson, 43, a slight lead over the Progressive Party's Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, 38. The two sides have led the polls through much of the campaign and have a long tradition of governing together.
The Gallup poll, conducted between April 18 and 25, suggested that the Independence Party would win 27.9 percent and the Progressives would take 24.7 percent. Polls in the campaign's final weeks had run neck-and-neck. The social democratic Alliance Party had only 14.6 percent support in the Gallup poll, its junior coalition member, the Left-Green Movement, just 10 percent.
In the wake of 2008's financial crash, Iceland swept the current left-leaning coalition into power, accusing the country's right wing of allowing out-of-control privatization, ultimately collapsing three banks and pushing the country deep into the red. The 2013 campaign focused on discontent over four years of tax hikes and austerity measures to meet international lenders' demands.
For much of her term, social democratic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir has implemented the instructions laid out by the International Monetary Fund, which lent Iceland 1.6 billion euros ($2.1 billion) between 2008 and 2011. Sigurdardottir bade farewell to some 300 supporters on Friday, having previously announced her retirement from politics at the age of 70.
Iceland launched its EU membership process in 2009, when the government saw the euro as a stable currency. Since then Iceland's economy has recovered and the eurozone hasn't shaken its worst spell since the currency's introduction in 1998.
Polls will remain open until 10 p.m. for Iceland's 235,000 eligible voters. Initial results will come shortly after.
mkg/dr (AFP, Reuters)