Icelandic constitutional reform, 2010–13

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Icelandic Constitutional Assembly)
Jump to: navigation, search
Coat of arms of Iceland.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Iceland
Constitution

An Icelandic Constitutional Assembly (Stjórnlagaþing) for the purpose of reviewing the Constitution of the Republic was summoned by an act of Althingi, the Icelandic parliament, on 16 June 2010 as a consequence of the Kitchenware Revolution. It undertook what has probably been the most citizen-led constitutional creation process in the world so far, involving large-scale consultations, including electronic fora. The assembly's proposed constitution passed Parliament and was put to a referendum, where it won the approval of 67% of the electorate. However, the government's term finished before the reform bill could be passed, and the next government has not (as of April 2013) tabled it.

Background[edit]

The Constitution of Iceland officially dates from 1944, but 'was drawn up in haste with minimal adjustment of the 1874 constitution as part of Iceland’s declaration of independence from Nazi-occupied Denmark'.[1] The 2008–11 Icelandic financial crisis exposed the weaknesses of this document, originally intended to be provisional. Following the Kitchenware Revolution, the Icelandic parliamentary election, 2009 brought to power a coalition government of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement. This government undertook to create a new constitution, for the first time in Iceland's history reviewing broad areas of the constitution.[2]

The 2009 and 2010 National Assemblies[edit]

In 2009, private individuals organised a National Assembly of 1500 people---1200 chosen at random from the national registry and 300 chosen as representatives of companies, institutions and other groups---to discuss the core values on which Icelandic governance should proceed. This was followed in November 2010 by a government-organised assembly of 950 randomly selected citizens.[3][4]

The 2010 Assembly concluded that the new constitution 'ought to contain certain key provisions concerning, e.g., electoral reform and the ownership of natural resources, for a long time two of the most contentious political issues in Iceland'.[5]

Appointing the Constitutional Assembly[edit]

Act on a Constitutional Assembly[edit]

The government passed the Act on a Constitutional Assembly no. 90/2010, legislating a special Constitutional Assembly to revise the Icelandic Constitution of the Republic. The Assembly was to comprise 25 delegates elected by direct personal election. The Assembly had to convene by 15 February 2011 and finish its work no later than 15 April 2011. The revised constitution was to be voted on by the Althingi and then put to a referendum.

The remit was:

The Constitutional Assembly was also empowered to address additional matters beyond “reviewing the Constitution of the Republic”.

Election[edit]

An election was held for the assembly on 27 November 2010 using STV-PR under the Weighted Inclusive Gregory Method. 522 people stood in the election, more than double the most optimistic estimates.[6]

The voter turnout was 36%. 15 men and 10 women were elected, fulfilling the quota of 40% women required.[7] The elected candidates were:

Candidate Profession First Preference Votes
Þorvaldur Gylfason University Professor of Economics 7,192
Salvör Nordal Director of the University of Iceland Ethics Institute 2,842
Ómar Þorfinnur Ragnarsson Media Presenter 2,440
Andrés Magnússon Physician 2,175
Pétur Gunnlaugsson Lawyer and Radio Presenter 1,989
Þorkell Helgason Mathematician 1,930
Ari Teitsson Farmer 1,686
Illugi Jökulsson Journalist 1,593
Freyja Haraldsdóttir Manager 1,089
Silja Bára Ómarsdóttir Lecturer in International Politics 1,054
Örn Bárður Jónsson Pastor 806
Eiríkur Bergmann Einarsson Reader of Political Science 753
Dögg Harðardóttir Manager of the Division of Architecture at Reykjavik Art Museum 674
Vilhjálmur Þorsteinsson Chairman of Crowd Control Productions 672
Þórhildur Þorleifsdóttir Theatre Director 584
Pawel Bartoszek Mathematician 584
Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir University Professor 531
Erlingur Sigurdarson Former Museum Director and Teacher 526
Inga Lind Karlsdóttir Media Presenter and University Student 493
Katrín Oddsdóttir Lawyer 479
Guðmundur Gunnarsson Trade Union Chairman 432
Katrín Fjelsted Physician 418
Ástrós Gunnlaugsdóttir Political Scientist and University Student 396
Gísli Tryggvason Consumer Spokesperson 348
Lýður Árnason Filmmaker and Physician 347
Source: [1]

Election declared null and void by the Supreme Court[edit]

After the election, three people connected with the Independence Party, which had been the main party in the years leading up to the 2008 crash, filed what Þorvaldur Gylfason (the most popular candidate in the election) called 'a bizarre technical complaint about the way the election to the constituent assembly had been conducted'. This led the Supreme Court of Iceland to invalidate the results of the election on 25 January 2011. The complaints cited technical violations of election laws,[8] though there was no evidence that the flaws in the process led to actual problems.[9][10][11][12] Of the six judges who made the decision, five had been appointed by Independence Party ministers.[13]

After receiving their election certificate (kjörbréf) on December 2, 2010,[14] the elected delegates were informed on January 27, 2011, that the election certificates had been revoked by the National Election Commission.[15] The following day, all of the Commission members tendered their resignation citing the circumstances that had arisen and the harmony necessary for the Commission to carry out its functions.[16]

Non-legal opposition was more widespread:

The opposition was not confined to the Independence Party. The Progressives, who had previously expressed strong support for a new constitution, changed course and joined the opposition to reform. Even within the new governing coalition of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement, there were pockets of passive resistance to change as well as among some academics apparently disappointed that they had not been asked to rewrite the constitution.[17]

Parliament appoints the candidates[edit]

Parliament began the same day to deliberate whether and how to continue the process. It was decided on 25 February 2011 that the elected assembly members would be appointed by Parliament to a Constitutional Council with basically the same role; only the Independence Party was against this solution.[18]

The assembly's proposals[edit]

The constitution draft was finished on 29 July 2011 and presented to parliament on the same day.[19]

The proposals included most of the recommendations of the 2010 National Assembly and were supported unanimously by the Constitutional Assembly itself.[20] Among the more important ones were:

  • ‘one person, one vote' (in the existing system, a candidate 'requires much more votes to be elected as an MP in Reykjavik than in one of the more rural areas').[21]
  • a referendum on abolishing the state church (polls indicated 73% would vote in favour of separation of church and state);[22]
  • a number of changes to government, including not automatically making the biggest party's leader PM, introducing a ten-year limit for PM terms, and that a vote of no confidence should have to include a proposed replacement PM.[23]
  • obliging the state to provide internet access to all citizens;
  • introducing a three-term limit for the president;
  • allowing 15% of voters to put bills to parliament or call for a referendum on proposed laws;
  • restricting government size to ten ministers, and barring ministers from being MPs at the same time; and
  • declaring Iceland's natural resources public property.[24]

According to Thorvaldur Gylfason,

After delivering the bill to parliament, the constitutional council disbanded. The parliament took over, seeking further comments from local lawyers as well as, ultimately, from the Venice Commission. The parliament was encouraged to translate the bill into English so as to be able to solicit foreign expert opinion, but failed to respond. Instead, a translation was arranged and paid for by the Constitutional Society, a private nonprofit organization. This translation made it possible for world-renowned constitutional experts such as Prof. Jon Elster from Columbia University and Prof. Tom Ginsburg from the University of Chicago to express their helpful views of the bill.[25]

Referendum[edit]

A non-binding constitutional referendum was held in Iceland on 20 October 2012.[26] It had originally been scheduled to coincide with the presidential election of June 2012 but was delayed due to opposition from the Independence Party and Progressive Party.

Voters were asked whether they approved of six proposals included in the new draft constitution:[27][28]

  1. Do you wish the Constitution Council's proposals to form the basis of a new draft Constitution?
  2. In the new Constitution, do you want natural resources that are not privately owned to be declared national property?
  3. Would you like to see provisions in the new Constitution on an established (national) church in Iceland?
  4. Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution authorising the election of particular individuals to the Althingi more than is the case at present?
  5. Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution giving equal weight to votes cast in all parts of the country?
  6. Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution stating that a certain proportion of the electorate is able to demand that issues are put to a referendum?

All six questions were approved by voters.[29]

The stalling of the bill before the 2013 parliamentary election[edit]

The referendum provided a clear but non-binding guide from the Icelandic electorate to their politicians. To become law, it needed to pass as a motion in the Althingi.

Further deliberation included media commentary from a range of parties, much of it negative. However, Thorvaldur Gylfason notes that these parties had had an opportunity to air their views before the referendum and had not done so, suggesting that 'it seems that the dissenting academics hoped the bill would be rejected in the referendum and thought it unnecessary to discuss it'.[30] The Venice Commission (an advisory body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law) also produced a report on the constitution, leading to some alterations.

The bill was now ready to receive a parliamentary vote, and was supported by a majority of MPs. However, partly through filibuster by the opposition, the bill did not come before parliament for a vote before recess was called prior to the Icelandic parliamentary election, 2013. This election was won by opponents to the new constitution, though the constitution was not a major part of their election platform. The bill appears to have been put on ice and its future is uncertain. The judgement of Thorvaldur Gylfason is:

It is one thing not to hold a promised referendum on a parliamentary bill as was done in the Faroe Islands. It is quite another thing to disrespect the overwhelming result of a constitutional referendum by putting democracy on ice as is now being attempted in Iceland by putting a new constitution already accepted by the voters into the hands of a parliamentary committee chaired by a sworn enemy of constitutional reform as if no referendum had taken place. Parliament is playing with fire. It risks the demotion of Iceland from the club of full-fledged democracies.[31]

More positively, he has elsewhere written that 'As always, however, there will be a new parliament after this one. One day, most probably, the constitutional bill approved by the people of Iceland in the 2012 referendum or a similar one will become the law of the land'.[32]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.
  2. ^ http://politicalreform.ie/2010/10/22/election-of-a-constitutional-assembly-in-iceland-2010/
  3. ^ National Forum 2010.
  4. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.
  5. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.
  6. ^ http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/?cat_id=16568&ew_0_a_id=369131; Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.
  7. ^ Had fewer women been elected, up to six women closest to being elected under the regular method would have been declared elected to fulfill the quota: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/silja-b/you-say-you-want-a-consti_b_790359.html.
  8. ^ "The Supreme Court’s Verdict" (in English). Iceland Review Online, 26 January 2011.
  9. ^ http://icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/?cat_id=16539&ew_0_a_id=372995
  10. ^ "News Review: The Supreme Court’s Verdict" (in English). Iceland Review Online, 26 January 2011.
  11. ^ "Constitutional Assembly elections null and void" (in Icelandic). Morgunblaðið, January 25, 2011.
  12. ^ Decision by the Supreme Court, January 25, 2011
  13. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.
  14. ^ "Assembly delegates received their election papers" (in Icelandic). National Broadcasting Service, December 2, 2010.
  15. ^ "Election papers considered invalid" (in Icelandic). Morgunbladid, January 27, 2011.
  16. ^ "National Election Commission resigns" (in Icelandic). Visir, January 28, 2011.
  17. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.
  18. ^ http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/Constitutional_Assembly_Elects_Appointed_to_Council_0_374415.news.aspx
  19. ^ http://stjornlagarad.is/
  20. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.
  21. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.
  22. ^ http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/search/news/Default.asp?ew_0_a_id=378828
  23. ^ http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/search/news/Default.asp?ew_0_a_id=378519
  24. ^ http://www.icenews.is/index.php/2011/07/19/icelands-constitutional-council-presents-draft-documents/
  25. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.
  26. ^ http://www.thjodaratkvaedi.is/2012/en/proposals.html
  27. ^ Referendum to Be Held on Icelandic Constitution Iceland Review Online, 25 May 2012
  28. ^ Advertisement regarding the Referendum to be held on 20 October 2012 - Icelandic Ministry of Interior
  29. ^ The majority said yes to all the questions RÚV, 21 October 2012 (Icelandic)
  30. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.
  31. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Iceland: How Could This Happen?', CESifo Working Paper no. 4605, Category 6: Fiscal Policy, Macroeconomics and Growth (January 2014); https://notendur.hi.is/gylfason/cesifo1_wp4605.pdf
  32. ^ Thorvaldur Gylfason, 'Democracy on Ice: A Post-mortem of the Icelandic Constitution', Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World, 19 June 2013. http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution.

External links[edit]