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Iceland's president wins record fifth straight term

Incumbent Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, a 69-year-old socialist who is popular for having defended taxpayers during the country’s 2008 financial crash, has won a record fifth straight term in office, early results showed Sunday.


AFP - Thora Arnorsdottir, a 37-year-old respected journalist with no political background who just had a baby, acknowledged defeat in Iceland's presidential election on Saturday.

Incumbent Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, a 69-year-old socialist who has held the largely ceremonial post since 1996, won a record fifth straight term in office.

With 48 percent of votes counted, Grimsson was seen garnering 52 percent, while Arnorsdottir, who interrupted her campaign for a week in May to give birth to her third child, was credited with 33 percent.

"This has been a valuable experience. Now I will take a holiday, attend to my new daughter and the other children and go on maternity leave and think how I can put this experience to use," Arnorsdottir told public broadcaster RUV.

"To get more than one-third (of votes), I'm overwhelmed. I of course hoped to win," she said, adding she had no plans to run again in four years: "This is something you only do once in a lifetime."

The fact that she had a newborn as she sought the presidency had raised some eyebrows, even in Iceland.

A pioneer in women's rights, the country is home to the world's first democratically elected woman head of state, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, and current Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, who is an openly gay woman.

"Women can't be blocked from doing things just because they have a baby," Arnorsdottir said in a pre-election interview.

In her campaign, she had called for a change after Grimsson's 16 years in power.

She had vowed, if elected, to return the presidency to its ceremonial role after Grimsson's unusually political, and at times controversial, approach.

A striking blonde with piercing blue eyes, Arnorsdottir was seen as a fresh face at a time when many Icelanders clamoured for a new breed of politicians to clean out the ranks following the country's devastating economic crash in 2008.

She decided to run after reading an official report on the crash and found that, especially when it came to "ethics and our political system... nothing had really changed."

Grimsson, a former finance minister, had meanwhile argued that his political savvy was needed as Iceland, which is recovering rapidly and has already returned to growth, prepares to tackle thorny EU membership talks and an October referendum on a new constitution.

"Iceland is now at a crossroads. Behind us are difficult years. Ahead are decisions on the constitution and our relationship with other countries in Europe," the silver-haired president wrote in an article published in daily Morgunbladid on voting day.

"There is still turbulence in the continent's economy and in many areas... The president ... shall assist the country in tackling the biggest issues; they will determine the fate of Icelanders for decades," he wrote.

Grimsson, like a majority of Icelanders, is opposed to EU membership for fear the North Atlantic nation will lose its sovereignty.

The left-wing government applied however to join the bloc in 2009 after the financial and economic crash that saw Iceland's three biggest banks collapse and required a $2.1 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Grimsson was subsequently heavily criticised for befriending bankers during the boom years and hailing their entrepreneurial spirit, and was ridiculed for supporting what turned out to be a bubble that burst.

But he vindicated himself in the eyes of the public with his refusal, twice, to sign a bill to use taxpayers' money to compensate Britain and the Netherlands for the 2008 collapse of online bank Icesave.

While allowed to do so by the constitution, no president had exercised that right until Grimsson did so in 2004 over a controversial media law.

That prompted debate in the election campaign on what sort of president Icelanders wanted.

A former university professor, Grimsson will now begin a record fifth four-year term in office, though he has won only three presidential elections: in both 2000 and 2008 he was the only candidate and was granted a new term without a vote.

Iceland has had five presidents since its independence from Denmark in 1944, three of whom have served four terms.

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