President of Iceland

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President of Iceland
Forseti Íslands
Coat of arms of the President of Iceland.svg
Flag of the President of Iceland.svg
Gudni Th. Johannesson (cropped).jpg
Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson

since 1 August 2016
Office of the President
Style Mr President (informal)
His Excellency (diplomatic)
Member ofState Council of Iceland
Residence Bessastaðir
Seat Garðabær, Iceland
Appointer Popular vote
Term length Four years, renewable
Constituting instrument Constitution of Iceland
Precursor King of Iceland
Formation17 June 1944;78 years ago (1944-06-17)
First holder Sveinn Björnsson
Succession Line of succession
Salary€289,000 annually [1]
Website (in English) (in Icelandic)

The president of Iceland (Icelandic : Forseti Íslands) is the head of state of Iceland. The incumbent is Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, who is now in his second term as president, elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2020.


Vigdís Finnbogadóttir assumed Iceland's presidency on 1 August 1980, she made history as the first elected female head of state in the world. [2]

The president is elected to a four-year term by popular vote, is not term-limited, and has limited powers. The presidential residence is situated in Bessastaðir in Garðabær, near the capital city Reykjavík.


When Iceland became a republic in 1944 by the passing of a new constitution the position of King of Iceland was simply replaced by the president of Iceland. A transitional provision of the new constitution stipulated that the first president be elected by the Parliament.


The term for president in Icelandic is forseti. The word forseti means one who sits foremost (sá sem fremst situr) in Old Norse/Icelandic or literally fore-sitter. It is the name of one of the Æsir, the god of justice and reconciliation in Norse mythology. He is generally identified with Fosite, a god of the Frisians.

Powers and duties

Executive powers


The president appoints ministers to the Cabinet of Iceland, determines their number and division of assignments. Ministers are not able to resign and must be discharged by the president. The ministers are delegated the president's executive powers and are solely responsible for their actions.

In the aftermath of general elections, the president has the role to designate a party leader (the one that the president considers most likely to be able to form a majority coalition government) to formally start negotiations to form a government. [3] Sveinn Björnsson and Ásgeir Ásgeirsson played highly active roles in the formation of governments, attempting to set up governments that suited their political preferences, whereas Kristján Eldjárn and Vigdís Finnbogadóttir were passive and neutral as to individuals and parties comprising the government. [4]

State Council

The president and the Cabinet meet in the State Council. The Cabinet must inform the president of important matters of the state and drafted bills. During meetings the Cabinet may also suggest convening, adjourning or dissolving the Parliament.

Prosecution and pardoning

The president can decide that the prosecution for an offense be discontinued and can also grant pardon and amnesty.

Legislative powers

Article 2 of the constitution states that the president and the Parliament jointly exercise the legislative power. The president signs bills passed by the Parliament into law and can choose not to sign them, thus in effect vetoing them. Bills vetoed by the president still take effect, should the Parliament not withdraw them, but they must be confirmed in a referendum. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (who served 1996–2016) is the only president to have vetoed legislation from Parliament, having done so only on three occasions (2004, 2010, 2011). This power was originally intended to be used only in extremely extenuating circumstances. [5]

The president has the power to submit bills and resolutions to the Parliament which it must take under consideration. Should the Parliament not be in session the president can issue provisional laws which must conform with the constitution. Provisional laws become void if the Parliament does not confirm them when it convenes. No president has ever submitted bills nor resolutions, nor issued provisional laws.

Article 30 of the constitution states that the president can grant exceptions from laws. No president has yet exercised this authority.


The president convenes the Parliament after general elections and formally dissolves it. He can temporarily adjourn its sessions and move them if he deems so necessary. Furthermore, the president opens all regular sessions of the Parliament each year.

Ceremonial duties

The president is the designated grand master of the Order of the Falcon.


The president receives a monthly salary of 2,480,341 ISK. Article 9 of the constitution states the salary cannot be lowered for an incumbent president.


Article 12 of the constitution states that the president shall reside in or near Reykjavík. Since inception the official residence of the president has been Bessastaðir which is in Álftanes.

Bessastadir with Reykjavik in the background Bessastadir with Reykavik in the background.jpg
Bessastaðir with Reykjavík in the background


Articles 4 and 5 of the constitution set the following qualifications for holding the presidency:


Articles 7 and 8 of the constitution state that when the president dies or is otherwise unable to perform his duties, such as when he is abroad or sick, the prime minister, the president of the Parliament and the president of the Supreme Court shall collectively assume the power of the office until the president can resume their duties or a new president has been elected. Their meetings are led by the president of the Parliament where they vote on any presidential decision.

If the office of the president becomes vacant because of death or resignation, a new president shall be elected by the general public to a four-year term ending on 1 August in the fourth year after the elections. Sveinn Björnsson remains the only president to die in office in 1952, triggering a presidential election one year ahead of schedule.


Article 11 of the constitution lays out the process by which the president can be removed from office. It states that the president does not bear responsibility for the actions of his government and that he can not be prosecuted without consent of the Parliament. A referendum instigated by the Parliament with 3/4 support must approve of his removal. Once the Parliament has approved of the referendum, the president must temporarily step aside until the results of the referendum are known. The referendum must be held within two months of the vote, and, should the removal be rejected by the people, then the Parliament must immediately be dissolved and a new general election held.

A removal from office has not occurred since the founding of the republic.


There have been six presidents since the establishment of the republic.

Term:1appointed · 2 died in office · 3 uncontested

PresidentTook officeLeft officeDurationTerm Prime ministers
1 Sveinn Bjornsson.jpg Sveinn Björnsson
17 June 194425 January 195227 years, 7 months, 8 days
(2,778 days)
1 (1944)1 Björn Þórðarson
Ólafur Thors
Stefán Jóhann Stefánsson
Ólafur Thors
Steingrímur Steinþórsson
2 (1945)3
3 (1949)3
Regent of Iceland 1941–1944, later became the first president of Iceland. In 1950 considered forming a government that did not rely on parliamentary support after leaders of the parliamentary parties had reached an impasse. The only president to die in office; this led to a vacancy, the powers of the office being constitutionally vested jointly in the prime minister (Steingrímur Steinþórsson), the president of the Parliament (Jón Pálmason) and the president of the Supreme Court (Jón Ásbjörnsson).
2 Asgeir Asgeirsson.jpg Ásgeir Ásgeirsson
1 August 19521 August 196816 years
(5,844 days)
4 (1952)Steingrímur Steinþórsson
Ólafur Thors
Hermann Jónasson
Emil Jónsson
Ólafur Thors
Bjarni Benediktsson
Ólafur Thors
Bjarni Benediktsson
5 (1956)3
6 (1960)3
7 (1964)3
First president elected by popular vote.
3 Kristjan Eldjarn (1982).jpg Kristján Eldjárn
1 August 19681 August 198012 years
(4,383 days)
8 (1968) Bjarni Benediktsson
Jóhann Hafstein
Ólafur Jóhannesson
Geir Hallgrímsson
Ólafur Jóhannesson
Benedikt Sigurðsson Gröndal
Gunnar Thoroddsen
9 (1972)3
10 (1976)3
At one point considered forming a government that did not rely on parliamentary support after leaders of the parliamentary parties had reached an impasse.
4 Vigdis Finnbogadottir (1985).jpg Vigdís Finnbogadóttir
(born 1930)
1 August 19801 August 199616 years
(5,844 days)
11 (1980) Gunnar Thoroddsen
Steingrímur Hermannsson
Þorsteinn Pálsson
Steingrímur Hermannsson
Davíð Oddsson
12 (1984)3
13 (1988)
14 (1992)3
Was the world's first elected female president and overwhelmingly won a contested election in 1988.
5 Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, September 2011 (cropped).jpeg Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
(born 1943)
1 August 19961 August 201620 years
(7,305 days)
15 (1996) Davíð Oddsson
Halldór Ásgrímsson
Geir Haarde
Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir
Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson
Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson
16 (2000)3
17 (2004)
18 (2008)3
19 (2012)
First to use the constitutional authorisation to deny signing a law from the Parliament, thus sending the law to a national referendum, on three occasions.
6 Gudni Th. Johannesson (2017-03-30).jpg Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson
(born 1968)
1 August 2016Incumbent6 years, 49 days
(2240 days)
20 (2016) Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson
Bjarni Benediktsson
Katrín Jakobsdóttir
21 (2020)


Guðni Thorlacius JóhannessonÓlafur Ragnar GrímssonVigdís FinnbogadóttirKristján EldjárnÁsgeir ÁsgeirssonSveinn BjörnssonPresident of Iceland

See also

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  1. "Iceland's president turns down a monthly pay increase of 5,300 USD".
  2. "Vigdis Finnbogadottir, the world's first elected female president". France 24. 31 July 2020.
  3. "Hvað gerir forseti Íslands og hvaða völd hefur hann?". Vísindavefurinn. Retrieved 2016-12-31.
  4. Jóhannesson, Guðni Th. (2016). Fyrstu forsetarnir. p. 196.
  5. Jóhannesson, Guðni Th. (2016). Fyrstu forsetarnir. p. 57.