President of Iceland

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President of Iceland
Forseti Íslands (Icelandic)
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
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;79 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.

Historically, while first-term elections have often been hard-fought, an incumbent president who decides to run again for office has usually run unopposed, or they have won re-election with an overwhelming majority of the vote when opposed. The 2012 election was a notable exception to this, where incumbent Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson won with only 52.78% of the vote.

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. They can temporarily adjourn its sessions and move them if they 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.

Detailed powers

Source: [6]

Powers of the President of Iceland
Article in the ConstitutionPower
Article 15The President appoints Ministers and discharges them. He determines their number and assignments.
Article 19The signature of the President validates a legislative act or government measure when countersigned by a Minister.
Article 21The President of the Republic concludes treaties with other States. Unless approved by Althingi, he may not make such treaties if they entail renouncement of, or servitude on, territory or territorial waters, or if they require changes in the State system.
Article 23The President of the Republic may adjourn sessions of Althingi for a limited period of time, but not exceeding two weeks nor more than once a year.

Althingi may, however, authorize the President to deviate from this provision. If sessions of Althingi have been adjourned, the President of the Republic may nevertheless convene Althingi as deemed necessary. Moreover, the President, is obliged to do so upon the request of a majority of the Members of Althingi.

Article 24The President of the Republic may dissolve Althingi. A new election must take place within 45 days from the announcement of the dissolution. Althingi shall convene not later than ten weeks after its dissolution. Members of Althingi shall retain their mandate until Election Day.
Article 25The President of the Republic may have bills and draft resolutions submitted to Althingi.
Article 26If Althingi has passed a bill, it shall be submitted to the President of the Republic for confirmation not later than two weeks after it has been passed. Such confirmation gives it the force of law. If the President rejects a bill, it shall nevertheless become valid but shall, as soon as circumstances permit, be submitted to a vote by secret ballot of all those eligible to vote, for approval or rejection. The law shall become void if rejected, but otherwise retains its force.
Article 28In case of urgency, the President may issue provisional laws when Althingi is not in session. Such laws must not, however, be contrary to the Constitution. They shall always be submitted to Althingi as soon as it convenes.If Althingi does not approve a provisional law, or if it does not complete its consideration of the law within six weeks after convening, the law shall become void.
Article 29The President may decide that the prosecution for an offense be discontinued if there are strong reasons therefor. The President grants pardon and amnesty. However, he may not absolve a Minister from prosecution or from a punishment imposed by the Court of Impeachment, unless approved by Althingi.
Article 30The President, or other governmental authorities entrusted by the President, grants exemptions from laws in accordance with established practice.


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 their duties, such as when they are 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 their government and that they can not be prosecuted without consent of the Parliament. A referendum instigated by the Parliament with 3/4 support must approve of their 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. Won first term in office with the lowest historical share of the votes for a first-term election (33.79%) but overwhelmingly won her third-term 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 veto power under Article 26 to deny signing a law from the Parliament. Used it again on two occasions.
6 Gudni Th. Johannesson (2017-03-30).jpg Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson
(born 1968)
1 August 2016Incumbent
(Term expires on 1 August 2024)
7 years, 307 days
(2863 days)
20 (2016) Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson
Bjarni Benediktsson
Katrín Jakobsdóttir
Bjarni Benediktsson
21 (2020)
Overwhelmingly won his second-term election in 2020.
Halla Tomasdottir.jpg
Halla Tómasdóttir
(born 1968)
1 August 2024022 (2024) Bjarni Benediktsson
Won with the second lowest historical share of the votes for a first-term election (34.15%). This was her second attempt at a presidential run, the first one having been in 2016 where she came in second.


Halla TómasdóttirGuðni 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.
  6. Constitution of the Republic of Iceland