Iceland expected to elect ‘ordinary guy’ historian as next president

REYKJAVIK, Iceland, June 25 (UPI) — A historian and sports fan with no experience in politics is likely to be elected president of Iceland Saturday, with experts suggesting voter turnout will be even lower than expected because of the Euro Cup in France.

Gudni Johannesson had a 49-point lead over his nearest competitor as Icelandic voters hit the polls Saturday, replacing President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, who is stepping down from the post after five straight terms.

Johannesson, a 47-year-old historian and political commentator, declared his candidacy after the release of the Panama Papers leak indicated several high ranking members of the country’s government were involved in offshore accounts. Included on the list was former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davio Gunnlaugsson, who resigned from the post as a result of his and wife’s accounts being revealed.

Grimsson announced in January he would not seek reelection this year to the largely ceremonial post and Johannesson said friends started encouraging him to run, though he did not seriously consider it until April when the Panama Papers scandal hit.

Johannesson said he was unsure about running, but based on the “total loss of trust” he thinks most people have had in public and political institutions after the 2008 financial crash, and especially after leaders in Iceland were shown to be covering up financial impropriety, it was time to run.

“I was on TV explaining what went on from day to day, and this trickle of encouragement for me to run (for president) turned into a flood,” Johannesson told The Sydney Morning Herald. “I’m not feeling it was the right moment — talk to me in 12 years. I have a great job and my career has been going fine. It was a matter of choosing between the security of what you know and the challenge of seeking this big position in the land. I’m a sports person and I decided just to go for it.”

Johannesson was expected to deliver on the large lead in the polls with an at least 10 percent of Iceland’s population in France for Euro Cup 2016 and many more paying full attention to the soccer tournament.

About 65 percent voter turnout was expected for the election, which would represent a record low turnout in Iceland and continue a slide that saw about 66 percent of voters participate in the last legislative election in 2014.

Between excitement over the soccer tournament and growing dissatisfaction with leaders in the country, Johannesson has led continuously since the start of the election cycle and is expected to pull out the win.

“I am just an ordinary guy,” Johannesson said. “I am a historian, an academic, a person who I hope people see like ‘he’s a likeable guy, I could chat with this guy over a beer or I could go camping with him and his family and it would be fun’. “This is what the Icelanders are looking for.”

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