Catching the wind on the Faroe Islands

08.09.20151,934
A commemorative plaque or an election poster? Credits: portal.fo

A commemorative plaque or an election poster? Credits: portal.fo

Early elections to the Faroe Islands’ parliament, the Løgting, were held on 1 September. Their outcome, according to the Danish paper Jyllands Posten, can be called a minor revolution. In addition, the elections also attracted attention because of an unexpectedly large-scale roadside campaign.

Transport issue

Projects in the sphere of transport infrastructure have been among the priorites for any government in the Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory of Denmark, for about the last thirty years. Although boats and a ferry are the islands’ main method of transportation, the islands are also connected to each other by a network of bridges and underwater tunnels.

However, there is a political aspect to their construction in addition to an economic one. Infrastructural projects require costly financing, which brought about a major crisis in the recent history of the Faroe Islands. In 1989-94 it was necessary to pay for them against the backdrop of falling fish prices and the disappearance of certain types of fish, resulting in disaster. (By 1995 national debt was 154% of GDP).

Major attention is still paid to the state of the budget, to expenditures on infrastructural projects and to the contents of such projects. Ruling parties as well as opposition parties participate in discussing and approving them. Thus, any inconsistencies or unexpected details generate a heated reaction.

New crisis

This is exactly what happened with Kaj Leo Johannesen’s second government (Unionist Party; first government 2008-2011. In June 2015, after working for 18 months, an independent commission established that the prime minister had repeatedly lied to parliament about his knowledge regarding the terms of a government contract with the construction company Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

The contract was supposed to cover the construction of an underwater tunnel linking two of the autonomous region’s largest islands – Streymoy and Eystroy. It also stated in the contract that if the government cancelled, it had to pay a penalty of 1m kr (€134,000).

This condition sparked public outcry and outrage even among deputies in the ruling coalition. (It included the People’s Party and Centre Party both). However, the prime minister’s attempts to explain that he didn’t know about it provoked even greater indignation and calls for resignation.

In spite of the commission’s conclusions, he continued to insist that he had not lied to parliament but only inadvertently provided incorrect information. After facing pressure from all sides, Kaj Leo Johannesen announced on 29 July that early parliamentary elections would be held. There were only a few months left before his term as prime minister was to end.

The campaign and elections

Elections in the Faroe Islands are held according to a proportional system with a 3% barrier. In 2015 there were 36,458 registered voters, 851 more than in 2011. 169 candidates from seven parties competed for 33 seats in parliament. As in Denmark, all of them are divided into two main camps – “red” (leftists grouped around the Social Democratic Party) and “blue” (rightists surrounding the Unionist Party).

Expecting the results. Credits: Polfoto

Expecting the results. Credits: Polfoto

It is said about elections on the Faroe Islands that their results are as changeable as the wind. Traditionally, several parties engage in a struggle for the greatest number of seats. However, in the end the difference between the first four parties does not exceed one or two mandates and a few hundred votes can create a decisive advantage.

Such instability does not allow the parties to maintain firm confidence in their positions. Here each undisputed victory is conditional.

Now, the Social Democrats have repeated the success which they had in the elections to the Danish parliament in June of this year. (The Faroese participate in Danish elections and send two deputies to parliament.) They beat out their rivals from the Unionist Party, adding 7.3%, or 2,646 votes, in comparison with 2011. Moreover, their leader Aksel Johannesen received the largest number of individual votes in history – 2,405. However, in both “parent” Danish parties there is already talk of how the situation could go in a completely opposite direction within four years even though the Unionists also lost 1,510 votes in comparison with 2011 (which cost them two mandates) and only 603 votes remain for the prime minister out of 1,974.

Despite the fact that public opinion surveys were indicating a completely different picture down through the last day, the success of the Social Democrats was not unexpected. Over the course of time, the ruling coalition had destroyed its ratings by taking unpopular decisions, and the tunnel construction scandal was only the latest instance. Before this there were tax cuts for the rich, willingness to accept 60 refugee families, putting off fish quota issues and same-sex marriage.

The Social Democrats’ campaign emphasised the idea of equality. They promised to lower taxes for the poor and the middle class; and they supported same-sex marriage. Their partners – the Republic and Progress Parties – achieved success with a separatist agenda, pressing for secession from Denmark (The Republican Party proposes conducting a referendum in 2016).

However, the success of the revolutionary agenda does not signify equally impetuous changes to come. According to universal opinion, the issues of same-sex marriage and independence are too delicate to be tackled roughshod. In answer to an inquiry by the news agency Ritzay regarding priority objectives, Aksel Johannesen said that the government must concentrate on the problems related to fishing and taxes and on reducing the budget deficit (Jyllands Posten).

Meanwhile, this electoral campaign will be remembered by many as an abundance of political advertisements pursuing the voter nearly everywhere he or she could go. Especial attention was given to automobile drivers, and “red” block participants were distinguished in this. Republic and Progress Party members adorned many poles, sidewalks, median strips and intersections with portraits of their candidates and posters bearing their parties’ ballot letters.

Seats

People’s Party — 6

Unionist Party — 6

Social-Democratic Party — 8

Self-Government Party — 2

Republic Party — 7

Centre Party — 2

Progress Party — 2

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FROM THE CAMPAIGN

Along the roads. Credits: Sermitsiaq.ag

Along the roads. Credits: Sermitsiaq.ag

Sonja Sif Jóhannsdóttir of the Social Democrats became the first gay politician in the Faroese parliament. Credits: election poster

Sonja Sif Jóhannsdóttir of the Social Democrats became the first gay politician in the Faroese parliament. Credits: election poster

Campaign. Letter means the respective party in a ballot paper. Credits: portal.fo

Campaign. Letter means the respective party in a ballot paper. Credits: portal.fo

Hard choice for drivers. Credits: portal.fo

Hard choice for drivers. Credits: portal.fo