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Iceland's likely new PM riding on wave of discontent

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Bjarni Benediktsson, who is likely to become Iceland's next prime minister, has been riding to power on a wave of discontent, but he still struggles to be liked by his own party and the people of his island nation.

A relatively youthful 43-year-old, Benediktsson looks set to form a coalition government including his own right-wing Independence Party and its traditional ally, the agrarian-centrist Progressive Party.

"The situation today calls for change," he told supporters after a count of votes from Saturday's election pointed to him as the winner.

However, the mandate is less than clear-cut. His party received 26.7 percent of the popular vote, the second-lowest level of support since the Iceland republic was founded in 1944.

What is likely to put him in charge of the next government is the decline of the social democratic Alliance Party, which has been associated with the past four years of austerity, and the drop in support for the Progressive Party in the final stretch before the election.

If things had gone a little differently, Benediktsson might not have had the key role he ended up with on election night.

Just weeks before the election he faced an internal challenge inside his own party after a poll showing that it would benefit from being led by his deputy, Hanna Birna Kristiansdottir.

On April 11, he appeared on television, visibly moved, saying that he would have to reconsider his future plans, only to reemerge two days later stating solemnly that he would lead the campaign.

This was widely seen as a turning point, showing a human side of a politician who had previously had difficulties bonding with the voters. He then began to take the upper hand over his rivals.

A lawyer by training, and a businessman by profession, Benediktsson has been a member of parliament since 2003 and chairman of his party since 2009.

His programme is one of lowering taxes to stimulate investment, which has tended to stagnate recently.

Even if he takes over from social democrat Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, 27 years his senior, many Icelanders doubt that he will bring renewal.

He comes from the very financial elite that was widely blamed for bringing about the devastating financial crisis at the end of the last decade.

Time will show if he can extricate himself from this image and bring about the renewal he has promised.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130428/icelands-likely-new-pm-riding-wave-discontent