Iceland government survives no-confidence vote after Panama Papers

Iceland's centre-right government survived a no-confidence vote late Friday, the day after the prime minister resigned in the wake of a major data leak that sparked widespread condemnation of his financial dealings.

New Prime Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson's centre-right coalition won by a 38-25 vote, in line with the parliament's composition. No lawmakers were absent.

The vote was launched by the opposition, which also failed to push through a second motion calling for immediate elections, citing the need to restore trust in the political system and arguing that a change of prime minister was insufficent.

One member of the ruling coalition, however, broke ranks and voted for elections to be held in 45 days. Independence Party lawmaker Unnur Bra Konradsdottir said it would be good for the party and country, and that her party did not fear elections.

As the vote took place, thousands of protesters assembled outside the parliament, using drums, horns and whistles in a vocal protest for new elections.

During the debate, Johannsson rejected the calls, saying it would be "irresponsible" to hold elections now, adding that a no-confidence vote should be "based on the government not managing to do what it intended to do."

He said the government was only one day old and wanted to complete its work, including lifting capital controls that were introduced in 2008 after the country's main banks went under in the global financial crisis.

Johannsson took over as premier on Thursday, following the resignation of Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who was implicated in a far-reaching data leak from a Panama-based law firm.

The so-called Panama Papers detail how money was funnelled to shell companies in tax havens and calls into question the finances of numerous politicians, sports stars and celebrities.

The leaked documents from law firm Mossack Fonseca suggested Gunnlaugsson and his wife had an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands. They denied any wrongdoing.

The revelations about Gunnlaugsson triggered protests in Iceland, where thousands of people have protested outside parliament in the past week and signed petitions calling for immediate elections.

During Friday's debate, Arni Pall Arnason, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, said the revelations were an "embarrassment," while Left-Green leader Katrin Jakobsdottir criticized the government for not mentioning any moves to investigate tax havens.

Birgitta Jonsdottir, leader of the Pirate Party, which has surged in the polls, slammed the ruling parties, saying "no one has apologized. Your shame is big."

Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson countered that the government had listened to the protests, citing Gunnlaugsson's resignation and that it had decided to shorten its term, "but work has to be completed in the nation's interest."

The government's term is scheduled to end in April 2017, but late Wednesday it announced elections would be moved forward to the autumn.

The coalition of Johannsson's Progressive Party and Benediktsson's Independence Party has seen support drop since taking office in 2013.

Last update: Fri, 08/04/2016 - 20:57
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