By Jenna Gottlieb and Jill Lawless
REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- Five years after Iceland's economic collapse, early returns signaled that austerity-weary voters are favoring the return of a center-right, euroskeptic government, widely blamed for the nation's financial woes.
Icelanders appeared to be opting for the Progressive and Independence parties, who are promising to ease Icelanders' economic pain, shunning the Social Democrat-led coalition that has spent the last four years trying to turn the country around after the crash.
Iceland's economic recovery has been hard and uneven, and many voters appear to have been swayed by the center-right parties' promises of tax cuts and mortgage relief.With 33% of the vote counted, according to Icelandic television network RUV, the Independence Party would have 20 seats; the Progressive Party 19 seats; the Left-Greens 9 seats; the Social Democrats 9 seats; and Bright Future 6 seats. "We are very happy, we are very grateful for the support that we see in the numbers," said Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson. The likely shift to the right following Saturday's parliamentary election would almost certainly shelve Iceland's plans to join the European Union, with which it has begun accession talks. Both the Progressives and Independents oppose joining the 27-nation bloc. Progressive Party chief Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson and Benediktsson were the two most likely candidates for prime minister under the system of proportional representation used for elections to Iceland's 63-seat parliament, the Althingi. The two parties governed Iceland for several decades, often in coalition, overseeing economic liberalization that spurred a banking and business boom -- until Iceland's economy crashed spectacularly during the 2008 credit crisis. A volcano-dotted North Atlantic nation with a population of just 320,000, Iceland went from economic wunderkind to financial basket case almost overnight when its main commercial banks collapsed within a week of one another.