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Iceland’s left-wing coalition poised for victory

Iceland's leftist government was headed Saturday for a strong victory in the country's general election, according to preliminary results.
Iceland Elections
Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, leader of the left-wing coalition, casts her ballot in Hagaskoli, Iceland, on Saturday. Icelanders voted in an early parliamentary election expected to see them turn their backs on the lawmakers who were in charge when the Nordic nation's financial system collapsed last year. Brynjar Gauti / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iceland's leftist government was headed Saturday for a strong victory in the country's general election, according to preliminary results.

Early results showed that a left-wing coalition made up of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green Movement has won 35 out of the 63 seats in parliament.

The two parties are part of a caretaker government that took office in February after public protests about Iceland's economic collapse toppled the previous conservative administration. The left-wing coalition is led by interim Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir.

The results are an overwhelming rejection of the conservative, pro-business Independence Party, which headed a coalition government last fall when the banking system failed. For the first time in the party's 70-year history it is not the largest party in the parliament.

Sigurdardottir was in an upbeat mood at the election party.

"The nation is settling the score with the neoliberalism, with the Independence Party, who have been in power for much too long," she told supporters. "The people are calling for a change of ethics. That is why they have voted for us."

The results represent a strong victory for Iceland's pro-European Social Democratic Alliance. The Left Green Movement, which has traditionally opposed closer ties with the European Union, has performed slightly worse than expected, leaving the Social Democrats a chance to lead a parliament with a pro-European majority.

"It (the results) gives the Social Democrats a strong position and puts pressure on the Left Green Movement," said political analyst Egill Helgason.

The Social Democratic Alliance has won 22 seats in parliament with 33 percent of the votes counted, while the Left Green Movement has 13 seats with 19.9 percent of votes, early results show. The Independence Party has 15 seats with 22.5 percent of votes.

The centrist Progressive Party has nine seats with 12.8 percent of votes and the Citizens Movement has four seats with 8.2 percent of the vote. Around 38 percent of all votes have been counted so far.

The global financial crisis washed up hard on the shores of this volcanic island of 320,000 people. After racking up massive debts during years of laissez-faire economic regulation and rapid expansion, the country's three main banks collapsed within the space of a week in October.

The government sought a $10 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout and the country's currency, the krona, has plummeted.

Unemployment and inflation have spiraled, and the IMF has predicted that the economy will shrink by about 10 percent in 2009, which would be Iceland's biggest slump since it won full independence from Denmark in 1944.

Iceland's election commission announced the early results Saturday night shortly after polls closed around the country.