REYKJAVIK (AFP) – Iceland began voting in a presidential election yesterday, the second European country to hold polls since coronavirus lockdowns were lifted, with incumbent Gudni Johannesson widely expected to win a second four-year mandate.
The polling stations opened at 9am local time for the country’s 252,217 voters.
President Johannesson was an early voter, arriving at his polling station in an Alftanes school, not far from the capital Reykjavik, by bicycle.
“If I get the support of my compatriots, I will continue on the same path,” he told AFP.
In Iceland’s parliamentary republic, the role of the President is largely symbolic, but he or she does have the power to veto legislation and submit it to a referendum.
Opinion polls suggest Johannesson’s rightwing challenger, former Wall Street broker Gudmundur Franklin Jonsson, has almost no chance of winning.
Voter surveys have since early June predicted a landslide victory for Johannesson, a 52-year-old independent and former history professor. The last Gallup poll on Friday evening suggested he had an overwhelming 93.4 per cent support.
“The (opinion) polls are not elections… But the gap is too big for it to really be bridgeable,” University of Iceland history professor Gudmundur Halfdanarson told AFP.
The coronavirus pandemic is not expected to have any impact on the election, as the country of 365,000 has been only mildly affected. It has reported 10 deaths, and currently has around 10 active cases.
Voters, however, are being provided with hand sanitiser and gloves and told to stay two metres apart at polling stations.
Iceland is only the second country in Europe to hold an election since lockdowns ended. Serbia held elections last week and Poland and France will do so on Sunday.
Johannesson, who in 2016 became the country’s youngest president since independence in 1944, has enjoyed robust support throughout most of his first term, ranging from 76 to 86 per cent, according to the MMR polling institute.
That is 25 points higher on average than his predecessor.
“He has been seen as a man of the people, not pompous, not very formal. So Icelanders seem to like him and want to keep him as president,” said Olafur Hardarson, a political science professor at the University of Iceland.
Contrary to his predecessor Olafur Grimsson, who never hesitated to wade into controversy, Johannesson, the nation’s sixth president, has spent the past four years focussing on unifying the country.