Iceland president wins record fifth term | News | DW | 01.07.2012
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Iceland president wins record fifth term

Icelandic President Olafur Grimsson has won a record fifth term in office. Voters supported his defiance of Britain and the Netherlands over the repayment of massive debts from the 2008 collapse of the country's banks.

The former leader of the now defunct left-wing party became an icon for the country's opposition to international pressure after Iceland's banks crashed four years ago.

With his defiance, the 69-year-old revitalized the presidential office, which up until now had played a mainly ceremonial role within the country's legislative arm.

In an unprecedented move, Grimsson refused to sign legislation permitting the repayment of money lost in the collapse to its larger European neighbors. Such a move would have seen Icelandic taxpayers foot the $5 billion (3.5 billion euro) bill claimed by international creditors.

This defiance put him out of favor with the center-left government as well as international creditors, but it would seem not with voters.

Grimsson won 52.8 percent of the vote in Saturday's poll to beat his closest rival - 37-year-old television journalist Thora Arnorsdottir - who polled 33.2 percent, according to the final results on Sunday.

"A good majority of the population has declared support for the work and the views I have been putting forward," Grimsson said on Iceland public service television. "I'm deeply grateful for the support," he added.

Defiant president

Grimsson was the first president to refuse to sign into law bills passed by parliament, triggering a voter referendum.

He was the country's finance minister from 1988-1991, and was once a vehement supporter for the unrestricted expansion of Iceland's banks.

When the island nation's major banks collapsed within the space of a week in 2008, the country worked to reimburse local investors, but failed to shore up any compensation packages for overseas ones, mainly British and Dutch depositors with online Icesave, a subsidiary of Landsbanki bank, accounts.

International lenders later demanded repayment of the $5 billion they had paid out to domestic financiers, sparking an international row.

Following the bank crash, the country suffered more than two years of recession, but has since recovered strongly thanks to its traditional fishing industry and tourism sector. Unemployment across the country remains high.

Unlike the government, the country's new president opposes Iceland becoming a member of the European Union.

jlw/slk (AP, Reuters, dpa)