Voters in Iceland have elected a new president, and in doing so have made a Canadian woman the Nordic nation’s new first lady.
Gudni Johannesson — a history professor who’s never held public office — has been declared the winner of Sunday’s vote, which means his wife, Eliza Reid, who grew up in the Ottawa valley, will assume the role of first lady.
The two met when they were both studying history in England. They moved to Iceland in 2003, married a year later and now have four children.
The Icelandic presidency is a largely ceremonial role that’s been compared to Canada’s Governor General.
The 40-year-old Reid, who works as a writer and editor, recently said she believed her Canadian background had helped her husband’s campaign because she doesn’t try to be something she’s not, and that appeals to people.
“When I was growing up in the Ottawa Valley it would never have occurred to me that my future would have taken me in this direction,” said the 40-year-old. “I feel like I’ve been very welcomed by Icelandic society. It would be a tremendous honour to be able to have that role.”
She also said she felt welcomed by Icelandic society and would consider it a tremendous honour to be first lady.
“As a Canadian, my stereotype is a bit that I am grounded and regular and don’t try to be something that I’m not,” said the mother of four who works as a writer and editor. “And I think those are things about us that appeal to the electorate, we’re just what you see is what you get.”
Iceland’s outgoing president first announced in his New Year address that he would not be seeking another term as the country’s head of state, prompting people to start declaring their interest, she said.
Some asked Reid’s husband, who is an academic expert on the history of the presidency, if he would consider running, but the suggestions weren’t initially acted upon, she said.
The situation changed in April, when the Panama Papers scandal revealed that the family of Iceland’s prime minister had offshore accounts, Reid said.
The prime minister ended up resigning, Johannesson was called upon to provide a fair bit of commentary on the matter, and his public profile rose, she said.
“He was seen as having intelligent, but non-partisan things to say about what was going on,” said Reid. “People just started calling our house, sending him Facebook messages and calling his cellphone…saying you should really consider running.”
After mulling it over with his family, Johannesson announced on May 5 that he would run for the presidency and has since emerged as the leading candidate.
“People don’t necessarily want a career politician as their head of state,” said Reid. “Gudni is seen as being very knowledgeable of the institution of the presidency, of its roles and limitations, but is also not seen as having his own private agenda.”
Since their campaign began, Reid has been by her husband’s side at almost every event, and says she has been received warmly by his supporters.
“People often elect the couple, especially because of this sort of figurehead capacity of (the role),” she said. “People like to know that I was born somewhere else but I’ve learned the language and have been taking part in society for a number of years.”