Iceland's frontrunner battles maternity issues

By Tracy McVeigh

Thora Arnorsdottir. Photo / Supplied
Thora Arnorsdottir. Photo / Supplied

The workers at the Marel factory are filling up their lunch trays with salads, sausages and pickled fish when the presidential candidate arrives, spouse and new baby in tow.

The canteen has seen several such visits from some of the six hopefuls in the running for Iceland's election on Sunday. Today's guest is the frontrunner to unseat President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, 69, who has been in office for a record 16 years.

Aged 37, and with a successful career as a broadcast journalist, Thora Arnorsdottir entered the race in March. She was then seven months pregnant.

But she has led the polls ever since, even after taking weeks out of campaigning to give birth to her third child with partner Svavar Halldorsson, who now carries the baby at the back of the Marel canteen.

As European countries now stare into their economic abyss, Iceland has already been there and is on its way back up, leading some to suggest it should be a blueprint for other nations.

In 2008 all three of Iceland's commercial banks collapsed, taking the country to the brink of bankruptcy. In two referendums Icelanders refused to pay the foreign debts of what were private banks. They turfed out the politicians who had not seen the crash coming and put several bankers on trial.

Arnorsdottir was urged to stand by voters angered at the president's decision to run for re-election, despite being widely expected to retire.

There have been damaging rumours that she would immediately take maternity leave if elected, Halldorsson's 20-year-old conviction for being involved in a drunken brawl has been raked over, and there have been suggestions she should stay at home with her children.

"I'm not saying it's easy, but the key thing is that because a woman is of child-bearing age or has children, they should not be automatically excluded from top posts. That doesn't make sense. No one suggests men who are fathers shouldn't hold positions of power.

"He [Halldorsson] gets kind of offended, this is his sixth child, [he has three daughters from a previous relationship]. He's really good at this, he's 42 and if he chooses to stay at home with his children then he should be able to make that choice."

- Observer

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