Iceland seeks return to political stability with new prime minister

Katrín Jakobsdóttir takes reins of left-led coalition pledging to invest in public services and sustain economic recovery

The leader of Iceland’s Left-Green movement has become the country’s new prime minister at the head of a broad three-party coalition that could restore a measure of political stability after a succession of scandals.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, 41, a popular former education minister who is considered to be Iceland’s most trusted politician, took office on Wednesday after formally signing a new government accord with the centre-right Independence and Progressive parties.

She told local media the administration’s focus would be on greater investment in healthcare, education and transport infrastructure, sustaining Iceland’s economic recovery from the 2008 financial crash, and improving gender equality and LGBT rights.

The outgoing prime minister, Bjarni Benediktsson’s Independence party narrowly won the 28 October election – the country’s second snap poll in less than a year – but lost a quarter of its seats, paving the way for Jakobsdóttir to form a left-led coalition.

Benediktsson called the election in September after his centre-right coalition collapsed 10 months after taking office over an alleged attempt to cover up efforts by his father to help “restore the honour” of a convicted child sex offender.

The coalition had been formed following early elections triggered by the resignation of Benediktsson’s predecessor Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson amid public fury at revelations in the Panama Papers that his family had sheltered money offshore.

The Guardian revealed last month that while an MP, Benediktsson had sold millions of króna of assets in a major Icelandic bank’s investment fund as the state was about to seize control of the country’s failing financial sector in the 2008 financial crisis.

Following criticism by some Left-Green voters of the party’s decision to team up with the Independence party, two of its MPs withheld support for the new coalition, giving it a slim majority of 33 in the 63-member Alþingi.

Benediktsson, a member of one of Iceland’s wealthiest and most influential families, has denied any wrongdoing and is not suspected of breaking any law. He is set to be finance and economic affairs minister in the new government.

Amid widespread dissatisfaction with the cronyism and corruption many see as endemic in the country’s political and business classes, polls have shown almost half of Iceland’s voters wanted Jakobsdóttir to become their next prime minister.

Jakobsdóttir, who has three children and an MA in Icelandic literature (her dissertation was on the bestselling Nordic noir writer Arnaldur Indriðason), became deputy chair of the Left-Greens in 2003 and was education minister from 2009 to 2013.

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