The new government has promised elections no later than May, and perhaps as early as April. Since it’s Parliamentary election time yet again, the Grapevine would like answer some of the frequently asked questions about the Icelandic governmental system, courtesy of our very own legal specialist.
The Republic of Iceland was founded on June 17, 1944. Up until that point, Iceland had been a part of Denmark as a fully sovereign state under the Danish Crown since December 1st 1918, with extensive home rule since 1904 and its own constitution and home rule since 1874. Prior to that, Icelanders were part of Denmark and subject to the Danish Crown (and before that, the Norwegian Crown since losing independence in 1262). Before that time Iceland had been an independent state with no king since settlement in the 870’s. That era is called the Icelandic Commonwealth, the centre of which was Alþingi, founded in 930.
Iceland, like most other republics, has three separate branches of government.
Called Alþingi. Has been active more or less since 930 A.D. Has 63 members, elected every four years.
The government is headed by a Prime Minister that, together with his or her cabinet, forms the Executive part of government. The Prime Minister is always an elected MP, and most typically the head of the larger political party in a coalition between two or more such parties that join forces to obtain a majority of the 63 seats in Alþingi. Other ministers (Minister of Finance, etc.) are usually members of the coalition parties in question and also retain their MP status.
The Judicial Branch comes in two levels. The District Courts (eight in all, divided by region) and the Supreme Court. Justices are appointed for life by the Minister of Justice, pending a signature from the President of Iceland.
Who is this President and what is his job?
The President of Iceland, Mr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, was elected to office in 1996. His predecessor is Mrs. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, in office from 1980 (before her 3 people had manned the post). Each presidential term is 4 years and presidents are elected into office by universal adult electorate. The last presidential elections should have been held in 2008, but the current president was unopposed and thus no elections were held. The President of Iceland is the head of state but unlike many other presidents, say the US President, he or she holds almost no real power. The President can, however, decline to sign new laws passed by Alþingi, in which case the law has to be put to a national referendum. This has happened once since Iceland’s independence, that instance being in 2004 (although the government chose to withdraw the law rather than subject it to referendum). The President resides at Bessastaðir, one of the oldest buildings in Iceland, just outside of Reykjavík.
To sum it up: good pay, little responsibility, free housing, lots of travel and socializing.
If you’re 35 years of age and a resident of Iceland – and have done no dirty deeds that resulted in a four month plus jail sentence – yes you can! 2012 might be your lucky year.
This is how that stuff works:
Nowadays, Alþingi is a name of the Legislative Branch of government, that is, the Icelandic Parliament. Members of Alþingi are 63 and are elected into office in a general election. Their term is four years.
By law, at least every four years. The last elections were held in 2007. The recently formed minority government has announced that elections will be held this spring, late April or early May.
If you have reached 18 years of age on Election Day, have Icelandic citizenship, and are a resident of Iceland, the answer is yes. You can be bankrupt, in jail, a crackhead, murderer or cannibal (even all of the above) and still vote. It’s an important right.
If you can vote, you can run for office, unless you’ve been sentenced to four months or more in jail after reaching the age of eighteen. To run for office, however, you must first join a political party and work your way through the party ranks. If that doesn’t suit your needs, you can start your own party.
Sure. If you want your political party to be eligible in forthcoming elections, make sure to tell the Election Committee all about it fifteen days before Election Day. By telling them about it, we mean presenting a list of the names and social security numbers of all of your party members who will be running for office in each constituency. There are six constituencies, and your party needs to have at least twenty people running in each of those (twenty-two in one). Also, for every person running, there have to be at least thirty people that support him/her in running for office with their signatures. Simple as that. Remember though, that after a rather recent change in election law, your party has to get at least 5% of the popular vote in order to get any MPs into Alþingi.
There are in total 63 MPs elected to serve each term. Let’s say that you and your political party gain twenty of those seats in the elections. You can now try to form a government with one or more parties that have at least twelve MPs or more between them: enough for majority in Alþingi. Your coalition would then take over the Executive Branch of government. As leader of your party – which is currently the largest one in Alþingi due to its twenty MPs – you would be Prime Minister. However you would also be an MP. This is a little complicated, but you are now part of both the Executive and Legislative Branch. Congrats!