Q&A: Iceland's presidential election

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and Thora Arnorsdottir Mr Grimsson hopes to secure a record fifth term in office with a win over closest rival Ms Arnorsdottir

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Controversial incumbent President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson faces five other candidates in this Saturday's presidential election in Iceland.

Since the last presidential election, Iceland has seen the 2008 collapse of three of its major banks - with international repercussions - following the government's decision not to bail them out. It has also seen the steady recovery of its economy with the help of IMF funds.

Mr Grimsson faces tough competition from a female journalist with no previous political experience who has suggested the country is ready for a change of leader.

How much power does the president have?

It is a largely ceremonial role. However, the president's signature is required for legislation to come into force and President Grimsson has controversially used this three times to veto bills he disagreed with, including one authorising the use of public money to repay the UK and Netherlands for monies lost in the Icesave online bank failure.

A bill to amend the constitution to define the role of the president more clearly is to be put to a referendum in October.

What are the main issues?

  • Membership of the European Union: the country applied for membership in the wake of the collapse of Iceland's economy in 2008, but there is opposition to the move.
  • The role of the president: some Icelanders believe the president should be apolitical and not intervene as President Grimsson has done.

Who are the main candidates?

Opinion polls throughout June have placed President Grimsson in the lead in the presidential race, with Thora Arnorsdottir in second place.

The national broadcaster RUV's website is displaying 21 June polls which show Mr Grimsson in the lead with 44.8% and Ms Arnorsdottir following with some 37%.

Their nearest rival is Arti Trausti Gudmundsson.

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson

The 69-year-old former university professor and veteran politician had decided to retire but a 30,000-signature petition from supporters persuaded him to change his mind, according to the Frettabladid newspaper.

Mr Grimsson is reported to be opposed to EU membership and is very much a hands-on president. He was heavily criticised in the wake of the bank collapse for having supported the banking sector's rapid expansion, but recovered popularity with his use of the veto against measures unpopular with the public.

When "fundamental issues that will affect the nature of the republic and the long-term future of the Icelandic nation have been put on the agenda, the nation has the right to know the president's views", he wrote in answer to questions from the quarterly magazine Icelandic Review.

Who else is standing?

  • Ari Trausti Gudmundsson: 64-year-old geologist, teacher and writer; interested in environmental issues
  • Herdis Thorgeirsdottir: 58-year-old law professor; vocal on human rights and women's rights
  • Hannes Bjarnason: 41-year-old business consultant
  • Andrea Johanna Olafsdottir: 39-year-old environmental and social activist
Thora Arnorsdottir

The 37-year-old journalist and television presenter suspended her election campaign in May in order to give birth to her third daughter.

In an interview with the Morgunbladid newspaper, she said she felt the country had reached a watershed and that it was time to use the experiences of the previous four years "for a new beginning".

She favours an ethical code for the president's office in its dealings with business, and has reportedly expressed doubt about joining the EU in the current economic situation, saying it would be like renting a room in a burning building.

However, Ms Arnorsdottir told the Iceland Review that on "controversial issues such as EU membership it is important that the president doesn't take sides".

What are the voting arrangements?

Iceland has universal suffrage and its people can vote at 18 years old. The president is elected by popular vote for a four-year term. Some 235,784 people are eligible to vote this time.

The polls are due to open at 0900 and close at 2200, with the first results expected the same day.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here.

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