Iceland's Lesbian prime minister re-elected
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Iceland's Lesbian prime minister re-elected
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Johanna Sigurdardottir, Iceland's first woman prime minister and the world's first openly Lesbian head of government, won re-election on April 25 with an enhanced majority in the Althing, Iceland's parliament. Voter turnout was just over 85%, slightly higher than in the 2007 elections.

Sigurdardottir has served as Prime Minister since Iceland's former right-wing government fell on January 23 in the midst of mass anti-government demonstrations sparked by the collapse of Iceland's banks.

Iceland is a parliamentary democracy in which the prime minister must have the support of a majority in the 63-member Althing. Sigurdardottir's Social Democratic Alliance picked up 20 seats, a gain of two, and her coalition partners the Left-Greens won 14 seats, five more than in the previous Althing. The new government will therefore have a solid majority of 34 votes, and can expect to get support from two smaller populist parties on many issues.

The right-wing Independence Party, which had been in government for 70 years before being driven out of office in January, lost nine seats and will have only 16 members in the new Althing. The Independence Party's free market, anti-regulation economic policies were widely blamed for the collapse of Iceland's banks.

Nicknamed "St Johanna" by many Icelanders, Sigurdardottir moved swiftly upon taking office to deal with her country's economic crisis and clean up the legacy of corruption left by her right-wing predecessors.

Immediately after taking office in January, she brought in renowned Norwegian-French corruption fighter Eva Joly investigate the causes of the collapse of Iceland's banks, ousted former Independence Party prime minister David Oddsson from his position as head of Iceland's Central Bank, and replaced him with Norwegian banking official Svein Harald Oygard.

She is now working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stabilize Iceland's economy. The challenges facing Iceland are profound. The IMF has only slowed, but not reversed, the rate of collapse. Unemployment has soared from under 2% to well over 8%. Inflation continues to rage in the 15-20% range. The currency controls imposed by the IMF due to the collapse of the Icelandic krona have essentially prevented Icelandic businesses from doing business abroad, and there is talk of major companies relocating their headquarters to America and Europe.

Sigurdardottir's Social Democratic Alliance hopes that membership in the European Union and the introduction of the euro currency will help stabilize Iceland's economy. Her coalition partners, the Left Greens, have been skeptical of EU membership, however, because they fear it would compromise Iceland's fishing industry.

Sigurdardottir was first elected to the Althing in 1978, after a career in Iceland's trade unions. She has served as Deputy Speaker of the Althing in 1979 and 1983-1984, and as Minister of Social Affairs in four separate cabinets, from 1987 till 1994. She returned to the cabinet in 2007 when her party agreed to enter a coalition government.

Sigurdardottir's partner is author and playwright Jonina Leosdottir. Iceland recognizes "Registered Partnerships" for same-sex couples, which give them the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as marriage. The law was passed in June 2006 with the support of all the parties in the Althing. Only one conservative member of the governing Independence Party voted against the measure.

Sigurdardottir has two sons, Sigurdur Egill, born in 1972, and David Steinar, born in 1977. Leosdottir also has a son, Gunnar Hrafn, born in 1981.

Icelanders use patronymics rather than family names. Johanna's father was Sigurdur, therefore she is Johanna Sigurdardottir. Jonina's father was Leo, therefore she is Jonina Leosdottir.