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article imageKatrin Jakobsdottir: Iceland's new 'trustworthy' prime minister

By Ilgin KARLIDAG (AFP)     Nov 30, 2017 in World

Katrin Jakobsdottir has become Iceland's second woman prime minister after winning popularity thanks to a humble and sincere image, but she must now lead a tricky grand coalition in a splintered political landscape.

Born into a family of poets, prominent politicians and academics, the 41-year-old face of the Left-Green Movement on Thursday announced an agreement to form a three-party coalition with the conservative Independence Party and the centre-right Progressive Party.

Described by supporters as "charismatic" and "trustworthy", Jakobsdottir has promised to make sure Iceland's economic prosperity, triggered by booming tourism, leads to a boost in public spending on health and education.

"We are focusing on the broad outlines on how we can really build up the public system in Iceland which of course suffered gravely in the crisis ten years ago," she told AFP, referring to the 2008 financial collapse that devastated the country's economy.

Jakobsdottir must now partner with Independence Party leader and former prime minister Bjarni Benediktsson, 47, who was her main rival in the tight October 28 general election.

Growing public distrust of the elite in recent years has spawned several anti-establishment parties, fragmenting the political landscape and making it increasingly difficult to form a stable government.

The Panama Papers, which revealed offshore tax havens, listed more than 600 Icelanders -- in a country of just 346,750 people -- including Benediktsson.

- 'A strong leader' -

Jakobsdottir is free of scandal -- unlike her rivals from the centre-right -- and served as education minister for Iceland's first left-leaning government which took power after the 2008 economic crisis.

"When we are in a situation of having such great distrust in politicians, she's the person you would like to invite to your home and have coffee with," said Egill Helgason, a political commentator for public broadcaster RUV.

Married with three sons, Jakobsdottir graduated from the University of Iceland and later received a master's degree in Icelandic literature after writing a thesis on the popular crime writer Arnaldur Indridason.

Surveys suggest she garners most of her support from voters aged between 18-29, in particular women, and that she appeals to an electorate beyond the Left-Green Movement's base.

"I think she would be a strong leader... because she has been a member of the parliament for a long time among corrupt people and still stayed true to herself," said Solkatla Olafsdottirs, a 26-year-old supporter of the anti-establishment Pirates Party.

Helgason said Jakobsdottir has "never been an assertive politician".

"She avoids confrontations and that could become her weakness," he added.

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