Iceland’s ruling three-party coalition has fallen in the wake of public outcry following the discovery of Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson’s links to a convicted pedophile.
On Thursday, it was revealed that the prime minister’s father signed a letter recommending “restored honor” —a provision within the Icelandic judicial system that allows convicted criminals to apply for some jobs in some professions and join a company board —for Hjalti Sigurjón Hauksson, a convicted pedophile. Hauksson had served a five-and-a-half-year jail term for repeatedly raping his stepdaughter over a twelve-year period.
Hauksson’s victim told the Icelandic newspaper Stundin that he continued harassing her even after his release, pursuing her with phone calls and messages to this day.
Additional information came to light on Thursday that Benediktsson had known about the letter since July, when Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen, who belongs to the same party as the prime minister, told him about it.
Iceland’s Bright Future party withdrew from the three-party coalition on Thursday, decrying “a serious breach of trust.” That decision cost the ruling coalition its parliamentary majority, resulting in the prime minister calling for a snap election on Friday.
The scandal comes as another hard blow to Iceland’s scandal-ridden democracy. The current government came to power last January following the resignation of Prime Minister David Gunnlaugsson in the wake of the Panama Papers data leak, in which he and his wife were found to have apparently relied on an offshore company to conceal millions of dollars.
Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Icelandic journalist Hjortur Gudmundsson explained that after the 2008 financial crisis, transparency has become a non-negotiable value in the island nation’s politics. “Since the economic crash of 2008 there has been a lot of suspicion towards politicians and a huge onus on honesty,” said Gudmundsson.
Benediktsson, then Iceland’s finance minister, was also shown to have had interests in an offshore investment firm in the Seychelles. He refused to resign from his government post.
Speaking to the Grapevine, Gunnar Hrafn Jónsson of Iceland’s opposition Pirate Party promised to “take the matter forward with great urgency.”
Not all see the government’s collapse as a sign of the erosion of democratic accountability. In a statement released on Friday by the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, the group celebrated the government’s collapse as the laudable result of righteous public outrage.
“Last night was a turning point in Icelandic society, when the country’s government collapsed,” the group wrote, “not because of money, not because of political squabbling between professional politicians, but because women spoke up.”
Correction: This piece originally stated that the policy of restored honor expunged the records of criminals. It has been amended to state that it instead allows people who have served their sentences to apply for jobs in certain professions and be members of a company board.
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