Close race as Iceland votes to elect new president

Vote looks set to be a close competition between three women: former PM Katrin Jakobsdottir; businesswoman Halla Tomasdottir; and Arctic scholar Halla Hrund Logadottir.

Voters in Iceland are casting ballots to pick the country’s new president, a largely ceremonial position in the parliamentary republic.

The vote on Saturday looks set to be a close competition between three women: former Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir; businesswoman Halla Tomasdottir; and Arctic and energy scholar Halla Hrund Logadottir.

Iceland’s president acts as a guarantor of the constitution and national unity but has the power to veto legislation or submit it to a referendum.

Polling stations opened at 9am (09:00 GMT) and will close at 10pm. Results are expected early on Sunday.

The hugely popular Gudni Johannesson, who has held the job since 2016 and was re-elected in 2020 with a whopping 92 percent of the vote, announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election.

No single central issue has dominated the election campaign, where candidates traditionally run as independents without party affiliations.

In the country of 380,000 people, any citizen gathering 1,500 signatures can run for office.

Jakobsdottir, who served as the head of a left-right coalition government from 2017 until April when she stepped down to run for president, has had to fend off criticism that she is too political for the job.

“I actually think that knowing the political environment doesn’t make you less qualified to handle the job of president,” the 48-year-old said on Thursday during a televised debate, when asked if her political career would be a hindrance for her as president.

“On the contrary … I believe that I can rise above all party politics,” she said.

The televised debate saw the candidates trade barbs on topics ranging from the country’s NATO membership, weapons for Ukraine, the possible sale of Iceland’s national power company and the use of presidential veto powers.

Women in the lead

Jakobsdottir, Tomasdottir and Logadottir have been leading in opinion polls.

Tomasdottir is a 55-year-old businesswoman who came second in the 2016 presidential election, while Logadottir is a 43-year-old environmental, Arctic and energy expert and is currently an adjunct professor at Harvard University.

A poll published in the daily Morgunbladid on Friday put Jakobsdottir in the lead with 26 percent, trailed closely by Tomasdottir with 24 percent and Logadottir with 19 percent.

Jakobsdottir, the party leader for the Left-Green Movement from 2013 until her presidential bid, has been hailed for her handling of the resurgence in volcanic eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula since December.

The five eruptions, including one on Wednesday, have prompted a series of evacuations as well as the state’s acquisition of homes from residents evacuated from the threatened fishing town of Grindavik.

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