With all votes now counted from last Saturday’s referendum, the majority of Icelanders have voted in favour of having a new constitution, including a number of significant changes.
Iceland’s original constitution is more or less borrowed from the Danes. In the wake of the 2008 economic collapse, a public outcry to change the very structure of Iceland’s socio-political system led to an initiative to write a new constitution. This led to the formation of a Constitutional Council. The council – comprised of 25 men and women from around Iceland, and appointed by the Prime Minister for the task – have been working on writing a new constitution for Iceland.
The council has been posting their progress on a website, inviting comments from the general public on what changes they would like to see, or what changes the public would like made to new constitutional articles that the committee has drafted.
Last Saturday, a referendum was held on six important questions related to a new constitution – including whether or not the constitution should be changed in the first place. The results are now in, RÚV reports, with the majority of Icelanders approving not only a new constitution, but also some changes to their society.
The results are as follows:
1. Do you wish the Constitution Council’s proposals to form the basis of a new draft Constitution? Yes: 66.3% No: 33.7%
2. In the new Constitution, do you want natural resources that are not privately owned to be declared national property? Yes: 82.5% No: 17.5%
3. Would you like to see provisions in the new Constitution on an established (national) church in Iceland? Yes: 57.5% No: 42.5%
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? Yes: 77.9% No: 22.1% (This question pertains to the ability of unaffiliated politicians, or those from smaller parties, to run for parliament.)
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: 65.5% No: 34.5%
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: 72.8% No: 27.2%
Of the 236,941 in Iceland with the right to vote in this election, 115,814 took part, giving a turnout of 48.9%
Not everyone has been excited about the idea of a new constitution, though – the Independence Party has been decidedly against the idea. Birgir Ármannsson, an MP for the Independence Party, told Vísir that the results show the turn-out was small, which he believes casts doubts on whether or not the people actually want a new constitution.
Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir said that she believes the election results send a “clear message” for a new constitution.
“I am very proud that the people should send parliament such an unreserved message,” she said. “Here, important issues that have long been in the public discussion were put to a vote.”
Indeed, the separation of church and state, as well as the ownership of natural resources, have been contentious issues in Iceland for a long time now. The “equal weight” question has also been much debated – as it is, votes cast in the countryside are counted as slightly more than one vote. Unsurprisingly, many living in the countryside voted against this question.
As a result of this referendum, the Constitution Council’s draft of a new constitution will soon be submitted to parliament.