Last night, the Progressive Party won two seats in the municipal elections, having won no seats on city council in the previous elections in 2010. As late in the campaign as May 23, polls showed the party still not holding enough to support to win a seat.
But later that same day, Progressive mayoral candidate Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörsdóttir announced she would reverse a decision made last year by Reykjavík City Council to grant a plot of land for the building of a mosque. Within days, the party gained enough to support to win at least one seat on city council.
DV reports that Sveinbjörg shared material on her Facebook about Muslims, allowing Islamophobic material posted on her page to stand. The aforementioned examples were posted by Skúli Skúlason, the founder of the Facebook group “We protest against a mosque in Iceland”, which has over 4,000 followers. Skúli has accused Muslims of committing atrocities in Europe, and has called Anders Breivík’s videos “a work of genius”. He has also repeatedly expressed his support for Sveinbjörg.
The night before elections, Sveinbjörg told Stöð 2 viewers she was worried that an influx of Muslims in Iceland could lead to forced marriages becoming a problem in this country, and said she wanted to “open a discussion on freedom of religion” in Iceland.
The other new Progressive councilperson, Guðfinna Jóhanna Guðmundsdóttir, told DV that the granting of a plot of land to a mosque was detrimental to Reykjavík’s housing problem. Svanur Guðmundsson, Guðfinna’s husband (and also the Progressive’s campaign manager), publicly asked, “Since when were Muslims a minority?”
By the end of Saturday night, the Progressive Party had won 10.7% of the votes, giving them two seats on city council.
Hulda Þórisdóttir, an assistant professor in political science, told RÚV that the elections mark “a dark day for democracy”, adding that the low voter turn-out was also cause for concern.
Outgoing mayor Jón Gnarr told RÚV that “I am worried about an unnatural nationalism and xenophobia. I am worried about it and I think it makes gains based on prejudice, misundertandings and misinformation. We have seen this movement become more powerful in Europe, with a great deal of fear and suspicious of foreigners, who are put into groups according to nationality and religion. This has shocked me and I find it tedious. I would find it awful if Icelanders went in the same direction. It would make me ashamed as an Icelander.”
See also Paul Fontaine, “Nothing progressive about it”, Reykjavík Grapevine, 2 June 2014