Katrin Jakobsdottir: Iceland's 'trustworthy' politician

Reykjavik (AFP) –


Iceland's Katrin Jakobsdottir, a left-winger and former journalist, won popularity thanks to a humble and sincere image, but must now navigate a splintered political landscape as she tries to form a government.

Born into a family of poets, prominent politicians and academics, the 41-year-old face of the Left-Green Movement has a chance of becoming Iceland's next prime minister, after being given a mandate Thursday to form a coalition.

"We want to lead a government that can create a broad unity on a long-term vision for the society," Jakobsdottir told AFP last month.

Described by supporters as "charismatic" and "trustworthy", nearly one in two Icelanders would like Jakobsdottir to be their next prime minister, according to a recent poll.

If her talks to form a coalition are successful, then the Left-Green Movement and its partners would become the country's second left-leaning government since its independence from Denmark in 1944.

The Left-Green election campaign was focused on inequality.

Jakobsdottir has promised to make sure Iceland's economic prosperity, triggered by booming tourism, leads to a boost in public spending on health and education.

Growing public distrust of the elite in recent years has spawned several anti-establishment parties, fragmenting the political landscape and making it increasingly difficult to form a stable government.

The Panama Papers, which revealed offshore tax havens, listed more than 600 Icelanders -- in a country of just 346,750 people -- including the outgoing conservative Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson.

- 'A strong leader' -

Jakobsdottir is free of scandal -- unlike her rivals from the centre-right -- and served as education minister for Iceland's first left-leaning government which took power after the nation's devastating 2008 economic collapse.

"When we are in a situation of having such great distrust in politicians, she's the person you would like to invite to your home and have coffee with," said Egill Helgason, a political commentator for public broadcaster RUV.

Married with three sons, Jakobsdottir graduated from the University of Iceland and later received a master's degree in Icelandic literature after writing a thesis on the popular crime writer Arnaldur Indridason.

Surveys suggest she garners most of her support from voters aged between 18-29, in particular women, and that she appeals to an electorate beyond the Left-Green Movement's base.

"I think she would be a strong leader... because she has been a member of the parliament for a long time among corrupt people and still stayed true to herself," said Solkatla Olafsdottirs, a 26-year-old supporter of the anti-establishment Pirates Party.

Helgason said Jakobsdottir has "never been an assertive politician".

"She avoids confrontations and that could become her weakness" in negotiations to form a government, he added.

The last time Jakobsdottir was close to power, after last year's snap vote, her party failed in its bid to form a new coalition government.

But now she has more experience, a large segment of public support and could possibly be on the verge of becoming the latest young Western politician to reach power.

"I am worried that we will have the same problems, but we have learnt (lessons) from the last elections," she told AFP.