In a widely anticipated development, on February 1, 2009, Iceland confirmed that a new coalition government has been formed, led by Johanna Sigurdardottir, Iceland's first female Prime Minister, and the world's first openly gay leader. Her cabinet is also noteworthy due to the fact that it contains an equal number of female and male ministers, the third such in the world.
Iceland's new PM, Johanna Sigurdardottir and President of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson. Photo credit: mbl.is/Omar
"It is not only a great occasion in our history, but also in the global history of the equality battle," said Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson in his speech officially presenting Johanna as Prime Minister.
Although, in a perfect world, as many readers have noted, the race, gender, and sexual orientation of our leaders should be completely irrelevant, it remains a fact that this is a milestone in our world, and another significant step towards the goal of judging our leaders on their abilities and their character, rather than on such superficial distinctions.
This new government was formed after the coalition between the conservative Independence Party and the moderate Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) came apart following massive demonstrations over the past month. It will hold power only until new elections are held in April or May, but faces many urgent problems arising from Iceland's recent financial collapse.
The Prime Minister's office stated that this government "will base itself on a very prudent and responsible policy in economic and fiscal matters but will, at the same time, prioritize social values, the principles of sustainable development, women's rights, equality and justice."
Among the measures that the new government hopes to enact are bills to permit mortgage payment adjustments, regularization of foreign currency loans, and a moratorium on real estate foreclosures. The agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be honored.
Johanna also called for a constitutional convention before the elections to address many of the issues brought up in the protests that led to the prior government's collapse, including: the appointment of judges, the ownership of the nation's fishing quotas, and national referenda.
In the run-up to the new elections, the government's first priority must be transparency. No ministers resigned as a result of the failure to the nation's three largest banks in October. No investigations have been conducted into rumored widespread self-dealing by banks officials, or into the ties been regulators and the banks. There has been public condemnation of the severance packages recently offered by the nationalized banks to bank officers, and of the former minister of fisheries' last-minute authorization of a massive whale hunt.
I find it very disturbing that no people from outside the government, from outside of Iceland, have been brought in to investigate the collapse, and I don't mean just a couple of bureaucrats from the IMF but teams of forensic accountants and legal and financial experts. We must know what led to the economic collapse; who brought it on, and who in government allowed it to happen. It makes no sense to call for elections if this government doesn't intend to investigate and tell people what happened. The fact that most of these individuals have been part of the status quo for decades brings into question whether or not they are capable of doing just that. Outsiders are needed to ask the questions that people who are a part of the status quo wouldn't think of.
We also need to know why the Social Democrats-- Johanna's party--went along with the Independence Party's platform for so long, and why the minority parties, including the Left Greens--the other party in the new coalition--did not take more action to investigate the banks' conduct after reports from respected economists last year predicted catastrophe.
Finally, we need to know why former Prime Minister David Oddsson (Iceland's very own Putin), architect of the failed banking system, continues to control the country's finances from his current position as Central Bank governor.
The next 80 days may determine Iceland's ultimate fate. We know that we are in deep trouble, that there are no miracle cures, and that we have a long, hard road ahead of us.
Nevertheless, hopes are very high that Johanna and her new government will staunch the bleeding, and set the country back on the track to economic recovery. Recent polls rate her and her coalition partner--Left Green party leader, Steingrimur J. Sigfusson--as the most trusted persons in Iceland today. But we must have transparency, and that should be our first priority.