Iceland lawmakers debate no-confidence motion after Panama Papers

Iceland's opposition demanded immediate elections to restore trust in the political system as lawmakers on Friday debated a no-confidence motion after the Panama Papers leak.

New Prime Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson rejected the calls saying it would be "irresponsible" to hold elections now.

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 data leak from a Panama-based law firm.

The massive data leak details 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 assembled outside parliament in the past week calling for immediate elections.

Opening Friday's debate, Arni Pall Arnasson, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, said the revelations were an "embarrassment" and the change of premier was "a good start but not sufficient," while Left-Green leader Katrin Jakobsdottir criticized the government for not mentioning any moves to investigate tax havens.

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 up to the autumn.

The debate was expected to run several hours.

The centre-right government has a strong majority, commanding 38 of the 63 seats in the legislature.

The coalition of Johannsson's Progressive Party and the Independence Party has seen support drop since taking office in 2013, while the untested opposition Pirate Party has surged.

Last update: Fri, 08/04/2016 - 18:07
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