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Iceland Mag

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Breaking: Mr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announces he will run for a sixth term as President of Iceland

By Magnús Sveinn Helgason

  • Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson Already the longest serving president of Icelandic history, Ólafur Ragnar has announced he is seeking a sixth term after completing his 20th year in office this summer. Photo/Anton Brink.

At a surprise press conference today, the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced he will be standing for re-election in the summer’s presidential election. This would be the sixth term for Ólafur Ragnar, who is already the longest serving president in the history of Iceland.

The announcement reverses Ólafur Ragnar’s previous statement that he would not stand for re-election when his current term is up. He had stated in his new-year’s address, on January 1 of this year that he would be stepping down this summer. Since this announcement 15 people have declared their candidacy.

Read more: What you need to know about the rapidly growing field of candidates for the president of Iceland

In his speech at the Press conference Ólafur Ragnar cited the “political instability” and what he described as uncertainty which had characterized Icelandic society since the 2008 financial crash, as well as the requests by numerous people, and a "wave of pressure" asking him to provide certainty during these times, as the reasons for his decision.

The revelations in the Panama Papers that the Prime Minister of Iceland has connections to an off-shore company in the notorious tax-haven of Tortola, and two other ministers in the government have had ties to shell companies in tax-havens, have sparked mass protests in downtown Reykjavík. As many as 22,000 people gathered in front of the house of parliament on April 4.

Read more: As many as 22,000 gathered to demand resignation of PM yesterday: Largest mass protest in Icelandic history

A historic, and an increasingly polarizing president
Ólafur Ragnar was first elected in 1996. Since then he has reshaped the office of the president, significantly increasing its political power. Perhaps the most noticeable way in which Ólafur Ragnar has expanded the power of the Presidency is his creation of a presidential veto. According to the constitution of Iceland a bill becomes law after being passed by parliament and signed into law by the President. If the president refuses to sign a bill into law it is referred to a referendum.

This clause was viewed by many as largely formal, since the office of the president seen as a purely symbolic head of state, rather than a political office. Ólafur Ragnar re-formulated this clause as a actual presidential veto, arguing that he had the duty to act as a political “safety valve”, ensuring that the voters would get a say on highly controversial legislation. Ólafur Ragnar has used this veto on three occasions.

Read more: What has Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the President of Iceland, in common with Alexander Lukashenko and Robert Mugabe?

In recent years public opinion of Ólafur Ragnar has become increasingly polarized, both due to his actions in office and the long time he has served. No president in Iceland’s history has served as long as Ólafur Ragnar, who will have been in office for 20 years this summer. He is currently also the 17th longest serving president in the world, and the second longest serving president in Europe. Only Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus has been in office longer than Mr. Ólafur Ragnar.

A source of stability during times of political uncertainty
Although Ólafur Ragnar made a statement that he would not run for re-election in his address on New Year’s Day, political observers have not been willing to rule out that he might change his mind. In his new year’s address in 2012 Ólafur Ragnar also seemed to have ruled out a run, but later decided to stand for re-election after he felt the pressure from voters to reverse his decision. A petition, urging Ólafur Ragnar to run, received nearly 30,000 signatures. He received 53% of the vote, securing a fifth term.

Read more: Iceland's president refuses the PM to dissolve parliament - the president's full speech

Despite the statement in his 2016 New Year’s address having been far more unambiguous than his 2012 statement, and the absence of a large petition asking him to run again, there has been considerable speculation that he might run again. These speculations have become more intense in the past two weeks, following the president’s last surprise press conference on Tuesday April 5. This press conference was called after Ólafur Ragnar refused the request of then Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, to dissolve parliament and call for elections. In his speech Ólafur Ragnar spoke of political instability, a theme Ólafur Ragnar invoked in his 2012 decision to run again.

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