Johanna Sigurdardottir is also Iceland’s first female prime minister
REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Iceland is set to appoint the world’s first openly gay woman, a former flight attendant who rose through the political ranks to become a cabinet minister, as interim prime minister.
Johanna Sigurdardottir, the island nation’s 66-year-old social affairs minister, is the pick of the Social Democratic Alliance Party to lead an interm government.
Iceland’s conservative-led government failed Monday, Jan. 26 after the country’s banks collapsed in the fall under the weight of huge debts amassed during years of rapid economic growth. The country’s currency has plummeted, while inflation and unemployment are soaring.
Sigurdardottir’s appointment was expected to be confirmed within days by the new ruling coalition of the Alliance party and the Left-Green movement. She would lead Iceland until general elections, expected in May.
"She is a senior parliamentarian, she is respected and loved by all of Iceland," said Environment Minister Thorunn Sveinbjarnardottir, a fellow Alliance party member.
But conservative critics say her leftist political leanings are not going to help fix the economy. "Johanna is a very good woman — but she likes public spending, she is a tax raiser," said Geir Haarde, who quit as prime minister Monday, partly for health reasons.
Sigurdardottir faces the difficult task of repairing the nation’s shattered economy and rebuilding public trust in government. Icelanders are deeply angry at their government for not reining in the country’s banks and leading the once-prosperous nation into an economic nightmare.
Iceland has negotiated about $10 billion in bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund and individual countries to keep itself afloat, but long-term solutions for re-building the economy have been unclear.
The IMF predicts Iceland’s economy is facing its biggest slump since the country won full independence from Denmark in 1944. Millions are also owed to depositors around the world.
Sigurdardottir entered politics through the labor movement, serving as a labor organizer when she worked as a flight attendant with Loftleidir Airlines — now Icelandair — in the 1960s and 1970s.
She was first elected to Iceland’s parliament in 1978. She became a minister in 1987 and has held her current post since 1999. Despite her veteran status, many Icelanders regard her as a maverick and respect her work promoting the welfare of minority groups.
She is perhaps best known for her reaction to a failed bid to become chairman of the Social Democratic Party — a forerunner of the current Social Democratic Alliance Party — in 1994. Despite a heavy loss, Sigurdardottir predicted: "My time will come."
In 1995, she quit the Social Democrats and formed her own party, Tjodvaki — translated as "Waking The Nation" — which won four parliamentary seats. Sigurdardottir later rejoined her old party when it merged with three other center-left groups in 1999 and 2000.
While a woman has served in the largely symbolic role of president, Sigurdardottir would become the country’s first woman prime minister. She lives with journalist Jonina Leosdottir, who became her civil partner in a ceremony in 2002. Sigurdardottir was previously married to a man and has two sons.
Associated Press Writer Valur Gunnarsson contributed to this report.