Link: https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20211128-iceland-s-ruling-coalition-agrees-on-new-government

It seems highly unusual that Katrin Jakobsdottir (Prime Minister of Iceland) is able to emerge from the last election with third-most seats in Parliament and still remain as leader of government.

How could this happen when both of her coalition partners have more seats than her party? The parliamentary arithmetic just doesn't make sense.

Is this just something Icelandic people do culturally? Or is there a more calculative reasons that led to this outcome?

  • 2
    From the tone of the article I suspect it has something to do with showing a continuity of power. Allowing the governing coalition to 'retain' power where as swapping leaders would show a change even with the same parties involved.
    – Jontia
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 6:41
  • 2
    I can't answer about Iceland, but in countries like the UK or Canada the presiding prime minister or premier is always given the first chance to form a new government in the absence of a majority winner.
    – miken32
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 16:46
  • Similar example in Israel.
    – J.G.
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


This can occur when there is a compromise candidate.

In the Icelandic coalition, there are a conservative and a progressive party in coalition with a green party. The conservative party may have joined the coalition on the condition that the progressive party leader isn't prime minister. And the progressive party has a similar requirement. In this situation a Prime Minister from the junior coalition partner can be a compromise that both the major partners can agree to.

As your linked article suggests, one benefit to Iceland of the coalition is that there has been political stability - this is why the parties of the left and right have been willing to form a coalition. So there is greater benefit in maintaining that stability and keeping a compromise Prime Minister.

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    On a simple Left/Right access the article makes it sound like the PM is coming from the left-most party, both other parties are described as right leaning.
    – Jontia
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 9:17
  • @Jontia well, the Vinstri Græn does seem to see itself as pretty left-wing. (In contrast to e.g. the Norwegian Venstre, whose name literally means "Left" but is in fact traditionally part of a centre-right coalition. The super-national Nordic Left-Green Alliance contains Vinstri Græn, whereas the Norwegian member is the Sosialistisk Venstrepartiet, not the Venstre.) Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 15:18
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    @Jontia The mere fact that Katrin is from a junior coalition partner can make them a target as a compromise PM, if the other two coalition partners are roughly equal in strength, and (for whatever reason) unable to accept the other as PM.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 18:17
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    @Kevin I think the problem here is this answer and all the comments including mine are based on generalities rather than specifics from Iceland and the actual parties involved.
    – Jontia
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 6:19
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    @Jontia: That's probably because we don't have subject-matter experts.
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 7:08

That's what you get with coalition governments, especially if the only feasible coalition excludes the largest parties.

This happened in the Netherlands 5 years ago and again happening this year. The 2nd and 3rd largest parties (in that case) simply refused on general principle to work together with the big winner and ended up creating a coalition with 3 more smaller parties that gave them a massive 1 seat majority in parliament (which they since lost as 2 of the MPs for those parties left their parties, taking those seats with them).

Thus the leader of the 3rd largest party ended up PM, as he was the leader of the largest block in the coalition rather than the largest block in parliament.

Mind that the resulting government often isn't very stable, as they have to make massive compromises working together and simply to get a majority in parliament. Dutch cabinet had basically to threaten to resign for every major vote in case they didn't get what they wanted, with their MPs knowing that'd likely mean they'd lose their cushy well paid jobs so they voted whatever was put in front of them...

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    5 years ago? That would be 2016, and there were no elections then. In 2017, the largest party in the Netherlands was the VVD, again, and VVD leader Rutte remained PM. That's entirely normal for Dutch politics. As for "happening this year", it indeed looks like Rutte will remain PM again - but that is because the VVD again was the largest party, by a significant margin. There's no other option - the #2 and #3 parties are liberal and anti-liberal/extreme-right. They won't form a coalition, nor would they pick a PM from the #4 party.
    – MSalters
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 13:34
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    @MSalters PVV won the previous elections, VVD was #2. They and FvD aren't "extreme right, anti-liberal" unless by that you mean "not leftist". Heck, Wilders especially is a classical liberal like Wiegel. Rutte is further left than den Uil was.
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 14:36
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    For the non-Dutch readers, the PVV got 20 out of 150 seats, and the VVD got 33. There's no special kind of seats involved here, 33 really is more than 20.
    – MSalters
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 15:11
  • Wiki-link I can't see anything that would suggest PVV won in 2012, 2017 or 2021. Making the comparison very suspect.
    – Jontia
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 19:25

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