No one major party in recent years has been able to command a majority of the electorate, and coalition governments have been the rule. Principal parties include the Independence Party (Sjálft<eth>isflokkurinn) (IP), a conservative grouping; the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn) (PP), an agrarian, left-center party; the Progressive Alliance (Althy´<eth>ubandalag) (PA), a formerly Communist-oriented party, now a far-left party; and the Social Democratic People's Party (Althy´<eth>uflokkurinn) (SDP), a center-left group. An Independence Party splinter group, the Citizens' Party (CP), lost its parliamentary representation by securing no seats. Iceland is unique among the Nordic states (which lead the OECD countries on all indicators of gender equality) in that it is the only one to have a women's party, which has gained a foothold in parliament. In 1995, the Icelandic Women's Alliance, a political party devoted to feminist issues, gained three seats in the Althing.
Of these parties, the Independence Party dates back to 1929, and the Progressive and Social Democratic People's (formerly Labor) parties to 1916; all three have been the source of various splinter groups. The People's Alliance became a distinct political party in 1970; it grew out of an alliance among Communistoriented elements in the Social Democratic People's Party and other groups, and in effect replaced the earlier People's Union– Socialist Party (Sameiningarflokkur althy<eth> u-Sósíalistaflokkurinn).
It was the issue of NATO and the US military presence that in March 1956 broke up an early alliance between Progressives and Independents, and the elections that year led to a new coalition of the Progressive, Labor, and People's Union–Socialist parties, all of which opposed the US military base on Iceland. (After the Hungarian uprising of October 1956, however, the Progressive and Labor parties reversed their stand.) That government fell because of Communist opposition to a proposed wage freeze, and after elections in October 1959, a government formed by the Independence and Labor parties came into office. This coalition endured for some time. But after the loss of four seats in the June 1971 general elections, a new government, composed of the Progressive Party, the People's Alliance, and the Liberal and Left Alliance (a party established in 1969 on a platform opposing Iceland's participation in NATO and its defense agreement with the US) came into power under Prime Minister Olafur Jóhannesson. Then, on 29 August 1974, after gains by the Independence Party in June elections, a coalition of Independents and Progressives was sworn in under Geir Hallgrímsson of the Independence Party.
Two short-lived coalition governments followed. The first, a leftist coalition including the Social Democrats, People's Alliance, and Progressive Party, led by Olafur Jóhannesson, was dissolved when the Social Democrats left the coalition in October 1979. Following an election that December, a second coalition was eventually formed from members of the Independence Party, the People's Alliance, and the Progressives, with Gunnar Thoroddsen, deputy chairman of the Independence Party, as prime minister. After three unsuccessful attempts by party leaders to form a governing coalition following the April 1983 elections, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir—who in August 1981 had been elected president, becoming the first woman to become democratically elected head of state—threatened to request the formation of a government of civil servants. Eventually, Progressive leader Steingrímur Hermannsson formed and headed a coalition of the Independence and Progressive parties. Following the 1987 elections, Thorsteinn Pálsson of the Independence Party replaced Hermannsson as prime minister.
The general election of April 1991 resulted in a new center-right coalition led by Daví<eth> Oddsson of the Independence Party and members of the Social Democratic People's Party. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was reelected unopposed for a fourth four-year term in June 1992. The left-right coalition of the IP and SDP was dissolved after the elections of April 1995 when Oddsson formed a new coalition government composed of the Independence Party and the Progressive Party, chaired by Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade. This coalition remained in power after the 1999 elections in which the Independence Party increased its share of the popular vote while the Progressives polled more poorly. Two new parties gained representation in the Althing in 1999, the environmental Left-Green Party (Vinstrihreyfing-Grænt frambo<eth> ) and the Liberal Party (Frjáslyndi Flokkurin). Of all 63 parliamentarians, 41 were men and 22 were women. In the presidential elections of 29 June 1996, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir chose not to run and Dr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson won with 41.4% of the vote. In 2000, Grímsson was reappointed president, unopposed, to a second four-year term.
In the 10 May 2003 elections, the Independence Party secured 33.7% of the vote and 22 seats in parliament. The opposition Social Alliance (which now includes the People's Alliance, Social Democratic Party, and Women's List) won 31% of the vote and took 20 seats. The Progressive Party won 17.7% of the vote and 12 seats, and entered into a coalition with the Independence Party. Therefore, the Independence/Progressive coalition held a slim majority of 34 seats in parliament, compared with the 43 it held after the 1999 elections. The Left-Green Alliance secured 8.8% of the vote and 5 seats, and the Liberal Party won 7.4% and held 4 seats. Following the election, Prime Minister Oddsson stated that in 2004, Minister of Foreign Affairs Halldór Ásgrímsson would become prime minister in a new government.