Icelandic Investor Tomasdottir Wins Presidential Election

(Bloomberg) -- Icelandic entrepreneur and investor Halla Tomasdottir was elected as the Nordic country’s president in a victory over former premier Katrin Jakobsdottir.

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Tomasdottir had the backing of 34.3% of voters against 25.2% for Jakobsdottir, state-owned broadcaster RUV said on Sunday morning, citing final results. The former government leader had earlier congratulated Tomasdottir, saying she’d make a good president.

Tomasdottir, who ran for president a second time, succeeds Gudni Th Johannesson, who is stepping down after two four-year terms. She also becomes the second woman to serve as Iceland’s head of state.

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Polls had indicated the vote would be tight, but many ended up changing their minds on the home stretch, backing the winner over the former premier, according to political scientist Olafur Th. Hardarson.

“This is the first time in Iceland we see tactical voting to this extent in elections,” he said by phone.

Tomasdottir is currently chief executive officer of not-for-profit organization B Team. She has advocated for transparency in business, with particular focus on business ethics, sustainability, and equality.

A founder of a private equity firm and a company pursuing responsible investments, Tomasdottir was the first woman chosen to lead Iceland’s Chamber of Commerce. The 55-year-old was the runner up in the 2016 vote with roughly 28% backing.

Tomasdottir says she was “pleasantly surprised” by the outcome.

“You don’t expect anything when you embark on such a journey,” she told broadcaster RUV. “I was hoping for good support but the result was better than I dared to hope.”

While the Icelandic president’s constitutional powers are limited, the role is significant as a unifying force in the nation of about 376,000 people — roughly half the population of Alaska. The president is also seen as a guardian of the language that’s at risk of deteriorating with the prevalence of English, and holds veto power over legislation, with the ability to force a referendum over controversial matters.

The election is happening just as the Nordic nation’s attention is focused on the latest volcanic eruption near the severely damaged fishing town of Grindavik. Lava broke to the surface again on Wednesday, in the fifth outburst since December in that area. The town, numbering about 1% of Iceland’s population, has mostly resettled elsewhere, putting pressure on the residential real estate market in the country with western Europe’s highest interest rates, at 9.25%.

Iceland’s recent economic history is a series of booms and busts, with the 2008 financial meltdown followed by huge growth in tourism, which halted during the pandemic and has since resumed, breaking records. Other backbones of the economy are fisheries as well as three aluminum smelters, belonging to Rio Tinto Plc, Century Aluminum Co. and Alcoa Corp., taking advantage of the plentiful and free geothermal energy.

The country made history in 1980, when Vigdis Finnbogadottir became the first woman to be elected president in the world. She went on to serve a total of four terms.

Jakobsdottir, 48, has served as prime minister since 2017, and stepped down to run a presidential campaign. A third candidate to score high in the polls going into the election was Halla Hrund Logadottir, 43. The director general of the National Energy Authority, who teaches both at Reykjavik University and Harvard, had 15.5% of the votes.

Tomasdottir is known for furthering education and initiatives aimed at empowering women. As president, the mother of two plans to bring Icelandic people together on discussions on the country’s core values and speak for them on the international arena.

“I want to work toward equality between generations and justice and work for the future that awaits young people,” she said Saturday. “I have always said that I want to invite the young people for a discourse on how we can get them more active in sculpting the future.”

--With assistance from Gina Turner and Chris Miller.

(Updates with comment from political scientist from fourth, Tomasdottir from eighth paragraph)

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