Voting in a referendum, Icelanders have rejected a deal to pay Britain and the Netherlands billions for their losses in the collapse of the Icesave bank.
Some 93.1 per cent of voters cast ballots opposing the deal, partial results showed after 32 per cent of ballots were ounted, RUV public broadcaster, which compiles all electoral statistics.
Only 1.6 per cent of voters so far voted “yes” to the Icesave deal.
“Initial figures indicate clearly that the December amendment to the Icesave legislation of August 2009 will be repealed,” the government said in a statement just minutes after polling stations closed.
Icelanders were asked to vote on whether the country should honour an agreement to repay the UK and the Netherlands $5.3 bn.
This would be to compensate them for money they paid to 340,000 of their citizens hit by the collapse of Icesave in 2008.
According to observers, an Icelandic refusal to repay the money could block the remaining half of a $2.1bn International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescue package, as well as its EU and euro currency membership talks. And it could also damage the country’s credit rating and destabilise the government, which negotiated the agreement in the first place.
The agreement being voted on was “obtained through coercion, with threats from both the British and the Dutch”, said Magnus Arni Skulason, a founder of the Indefence movement, which is opposed to the repayment deal
He added that most Icelanders felt the demanded 5.5-per cent interest rate was particularly unacceptable.
“You’re basically sending the bill to tax payers for the failure of a private bank,” he was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.
But others say the referendum is largely redundant because the terms of the repayment plan are already being renegotiated.
The referendum was described as “meaningless” by Johanna Sigurdardottir, the prime minister, who said she saw no reason to go to the ballot box.
Charlie Parker, a financial analyst with the Citywire website, told Al Jazeera: “When the referendum was originally conceived it was conceived in response to the first offer from Britain and the Netherlands to structure this repayment, of course that has since been revised.”
However he also noted that Iceland had some “legitimate grievances”, including that the UK and the Netherlands chose to repay all of their citizen’s lost savings, even above the standard compensation limits.
“It was the government of Britain and the Netherlands that unilaterally decided they would pay back all the money that savers had invested,” Parker said.
“I think Iceland can legitimately say ‘if these governments made this decision unilaterally, why have we got to pay out for their largess to their citizens?”
Jan Randolph, the head of sovereign risk at HIS Global Insight, told Al Jazeera there was no indication Iceland would not repay the debt, but that the referendum was about winning better terms.
“I think the referendum is really about bargaining position. The government will use the ‘no’ vote to come back to the British and the Dutch and say: ‘Look, the people are not behind this, you’ve got to improve the terms further’.“
Talks will be resumed in order to negociate better terms with London and The Hague after the referendum, said Iceland’s leaders.
Randolph told Al Jazeera: “The referendum is a chance for the Icelanders to vent their anger – their anger at their government and at Britain for using anti-terror laws to seize Icelandic bank assets, which accelerated the implosion of the banking system.”
In the aftermath of the Icesave collapse, the UK invoked so-called anti-terror laws to take control of Landisbanki assets held in Britain. Icesave was the online arm of Landisbanki.