So What's This New Constitution I Keep Hearing About?

6.6.2012
Words by Kári Tulinius
After the 2008 financial crash there were loud calls for a new Republic of Iceland, where fat cats would have no more power than the public. The logical starting point was a new constitution. In 2010, an election was held to elect a Constitutional Assembly. Five hundred some people ran for 25 seats. The election was, however, nullified by The Supreme Court.

Why? Election fraud?


The Court considered the voting arrangement lax in ensuring voter privacy while voting, though there are no reported cases of votes being looked at by people who were not supposed to. Instead of rerunning the election, parliament decided to appoint the 25 people elected to a Constitutional Council. One person declined, leaving 24 people to start writing a new constitution for the Republic of Iceland.

Twenty-four people? I read on the web that it was crowdsourced online!

No, not really. The Council people blogged about their deliberations and took suggestions from the public, but the proposed constitution was written by 24. I think you have got it confused with the one that starts: “We the People are no strangers to love, you know the rules and so do I, a full commitment's what I'm thinking of, you wouldn't get this from any other guy.”

Don't rickroll me, that joke's a 1000 internet years old. And not funny to begin with.


I apologise. To be fair, the whole process has been very open and transparent. The Council has been very careful about making its reasoning clear and explained how it came to their conclusion and put everything online. The regular media has largely ignored all this information, choosing instead to focus on arguments between politicians about whether a new constitution is a good idea or not to begin with. Few Icelanders would be able to tell you how the proposed constitution begins, which is: "We who live in Iceland want to create a just society where everyone sits at the same table."

That would be one hell of a big table.

It is a metaphorical table. I think. If the Council really meant that all Icelanders should sit around an actual table together, that would be by far the most radical change in the proposed constitution. Mostly it encodes the current practices of the Icelandic executive, legislature and judicial system into a constitution.

It isn't a revolutionary document that takes power away from the fat cats and gives it to the public?


The most radical change proposed is that if ten percent of the Icelandic voting public signs a petition, they can propose a law that the parliament has to vote on, or they can have most laws passed by the Icelandic parliament go to a national referendum. Optimists say that the public is the wisest legislator, pessimists point out that in referendum-happy Switzerland, women did not have full voting rights in every part of the country until 1990, and sarcastic bastards expect all this to be great fun. It looks like the Constitutional Council takes the side of the optimists. In any case, the public at large will be able to vote for or against the proposed constitution in a national referendum this fall.

This Constitutional Council, was it a gathering of the best and brightest, the Icelandic James Madisons, Thomas Jeffersons and Benjamin Franklins?

Well, the people elected were almost all known from television, radio and newspapers for commenting on social and political affairs. This included Iceland's best-known economist, a former TV news reporter in his ’70s and a right-wing radio host.

So it was written by the Icelandic Paul Krugman, Dan Rather and Rush Limbaugh?


I would not go quite so far. Others would, though. All things considered, it is a fairly diverse crowd. Among the council people there was a disability rights activist, Björk's dad, and a mathematician of Polish descent.

Is this is a setup for a bad joke?


Oh, no, but I do know one joke about the constitution. Have you heard the one about the Icelanders who tried to write a new constitution? The dysfunctional system of Icelandic governance kept delaying the process for years and the dysfunctional Icelandic media did not bother to inform the public about the contents of the new constitution.

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