Constitutional Changes in Iceland

by JOSÉ M. TIRADO

To some, it may not look like much. But the people have spoken. On a cool, clear Sunday, Icelanders cast either the most important vote in their history, a shining example for the democracies of the world, or a sham pseudo-revolution designed by amateurs to upset a rickety apple-cart only now righting itself. Of course, this depended upon whom you asked. Average folks and foreign observers tend to give more weight to the former interpretation. And bankers, old politicians and minor-league oligarchs asserted the latter.

After the Pots and Pans Revolution, Icelanders demanded that some future safeguards be created to ensure another financial collapse is averted and that in the future, those responsible would be punished, or dissuaded from playing the high stakes poker with the entire nation’s economic resources, among other demands. The government, led by the dominant Independence Party, (Iceland’s “Republicans”, a center-right amalgam of nationalists, free marketers and high tech supporting banking interests combined with the old oligarchies, the “octopus” of fishing quota shipping families and their supporters) was forced to resign. A newer, Left-Green Alliance/Socialist Party government was elected. In addition, calls were made for a new constitution to replace the Dane-inspired one. After much discussion, a National Forum was held and a committee of 25 citizens was selected, taken from 1000 applicants ranging from plumbers to politicians, with the suggestions submitted to the Althingi, or Parliament. Saturday’s vote represents a crystallization of those suggestions into six main issues (translation courtesy of Paul Nikolov). The results are now in and they are fairly decisive, to say the least:

1.      Do you wish the Constitution Council’s proposals to form the basis of a new draft Constitution? YES: 66.1% NO: 33.9% 

Maybe the most essential of the proposals, the people chose to go with the new Constitution, one which will be more equitable, enshrining animal rights, protecting natural resources, and more open to popular amending. The Independence Party, has begun squawking about insufficient voters delegitimizing the vote, but the lopsided numbers will probably guarantee the new Constitution, with some minor amending by parliamentarians, will be voted on in the spring. And probably approved.

2. In the new Constitution, do you want natural resources that are not privately owned to be declared national property? YES: 81.2% NO: 18.8%   

Overwhelmingly, Icelanders have declared, hands down, their opposition to the “octopus” of families who already dominate the country’s main resource, fish, and stated that those remaining natural resources are the patrimony of all Icelanders. This is very significant, and there will be acrimonious opposition from those who will cling to their privileges, the “sea barons” especially. Again, the leader of the Independence Party is questioning the results, asserting that non-voters and the opposition votes be counted together in an effort to minimize the damage. My guess is the entrenched interests will not go quietly, but popular sentiment is unambiguous here.

3. Would you like to see provisions in the new Constitution on an established (national) church in Iceland? YES: 57.3% NO: 42.7% 

This refers to whether the Evangelical Lutheran Church should be identified as the State Church, as is at present, or should no church get official mention and thus, a formal “separation of church and state” be enacted. Apparently, Icelanders want to retain the cultural ties to the church, although the fact that nearly 43% do not, highlights the yearly diminishing influence of this rather moribund institution.

4. Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution authorizing the election of particular individuals to the Althingi more than is the case at present? YES: 76.4% NO: 23.6%

Simply put, this refers to election of individuals vs parties. Right now party lists are provided and the leaders are then voted in per the final percentage of the vote given to the respective party. Personally, I have mixed feelings about this issue as any move towards a more personality-centered electoral process may lead to US style theatrics. Apparently, however, Icelanders feel differently, hoping their more charismatic leaders from smaller parties, or those from no party at all, might have a better chance.

5. Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution giving equal weight to votes cast in all parts of the country?  YES: 55.6% NO: 44.4%

At present, a slightly higher weight is given to more remote, agricultural votes despite the fact that around 90% of the country’s population is located in one major (Reykjavík) and one smaller (Akureyri) urban area. This equalizes votes. Appropriately.

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? YES: 70.5% NO: 29.5% 

This item ranks next in importance. In part because the people want make sure that before any changes are made to the already voted on changes they approved (one marvels at such electoral complexity within a country about the size of Kentucky with the population of Indianapolis, IN), that they have the right to vote on it all yet again, in a national referendum.

Taken at face value, these changes may not look too intimidating. But the response from some quarters has been furious and frantic; first, in dissuading voters from even participating, to now lamenting the possible collapse of Iceland into a quasi-socialist republic governed by amateurs and revolutionaries. This was the opinion of some of the Independence Party who is rapidly becoming Iceland’s own party of “no”. If democracy is a messy affair, then the Iceland example provides ample confirmation of this fact. Still, patience and determination have always proven allies to change, and the doggedness of Icelanders to tackle the entrenched interests who have dominated politics here since after the Second World War may just prove successful.

Rev. JOSÉ M. TIRADO is a poet, priest and writer finishing a PhD in psychology while living in Iceland. 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action