Published June 25, 2004
This year, though, the weather was sunny if not calm. The rays fell down as the wind blew the flags to full erection, symbolising a vibrant and stormy, but hopefully also a bright, future. And it seemed most people were in a mood to celebrate without excluding anyone living here.
As we all stood there on Ingólfshóll, celebrating the best and the worst of our culture from the Lady of the Mountain (who, by the way, did not have blonde hair this time) to the latest production of Hair, the republic turned 60. I sincerely hope that we can move away from a colour-based description of society and will not worry about whether the future is black, yellow or white, but concentrate on making it a bright one for us all.
A serious matter
The day of unity over, city officials were busy fishing Og Vodaphone popcorn bags from the pond and 15 year olds were recovering from their hangovers in an enviably short amount of time. We now had to start thinking again about finding a figurehead for this nation of ours, someone to symbolize the wind and the rain and the Lady of the Mountain and the hangovers and the endless productions of Hair, Grease and Fame and everything else that goes with being Icelandic. Except the figurehead is no longer just a figurehead.
As anyone living here will have noticed, the President, for the first time in the history of the republic, last month refused to sign a bill put forward by Parliament.
When the president refuses to sign a bill, the constitution states that it will then go to referendum. How exactly this is to be conducted it says nothing about, sparking yet another controversy. The constitution is little changed since it was brought here by a Danish king in 1874, except the word “king” has been erased and substituted with the word “president”. It also states that parliament wields the powers of the presidency except, it seems, when the president refuses to sign bills. The constitution even states that the president can choose or dismiss his ministers. Everyone has just always assumed this to mean that they should be democratically elected.
There is no doubt the constitution is in bad need of an overhaul. But I do not question the president’s right not to sign. I just wish he would have done so a lot earlier, on various different occasions. Bringing democracy to the people is something I am generally in favour of. Representative democracy is a 19th Century invention, when you had to traverse miles on horseback to get to the nearest election booth. The physical act of voting has become a lot easier in the age of information, and we should be allowed to do it more often.
Whether you are in favour of the media law or not, whatever decision will be reached will be easier to live with if you know the majority of the country has approved it. If the majority of the population had voted for damming (and damning) Kárahnjúkar, I would be more willing to accept it. If the majority of the population had voted for US military presence rather than protesters being gassed, I would have been more willing to accept it (they´re leaving anyway). If the majority of the population had voted for the immigrant laws, I would move somewhere else. But at least I´d know. Hence, the president, who has the power to put disputed laws to referendum, can play an important part in the democratic process.
But with great power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes. From now on, we will not just be voting for a figurehead to go to cocktail parties on our behalf. We will be voting for a person that has the final power to refer decisions to us. It now actually matters who gets to be president. The tradition of treating all opponents to an incumbent with mockery must come to an end. This has become a serious matter.
It so happens that we now have three presidential candidates. Baldur Ágústsson is rightly concerned about domestic affairs, such as the increasing debts of the younger generation. Ástþór Magnússon wants world peace. I tend to agree. Ólafur Ragnar, however, due to his long experience, is the most presentable of the three. All these virtues are ones I want my president to have. But, unless there´s a last minute breakthrough in genetic research, we´ll have to choose one. We talked to all of them and, on page 11, you´ll find our interviews where the three contenders present themselves, in alphabetical order. Choose wisely. You never know when you might need them.
Grapevine will return on the 9th of July in expanded form. Please feel free to send us material.