Category Archives: Iceland

Iceland – New coalition agreed

Parliamentary elections were held in Iceland on 27 April. The outgoing government was roundly defeated. A new coalition has now been agreed.

The two leading parties following the election, the Independence Party and the Progressive Party, each won 19 seats. There are 63 seats in the legislature.

In the end, the Progressive Party will take the premiership. The new PM will be Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. The leader of the Independence Party, Bjarni Benediktsson, will become the Finance Minister. Iceland Review is reporting that the Progressive Party will have four other cabinet posts and that the Independence Party will have five as well as the Speaker of Parliament.

One issue this raises is whether Iceland is about to begin a period of cohabitation. This depends on whether you consider the president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, to be partisan. He was previously an elected member (and minister) representing the People’s Alliance (AP). When he was elected president in 1996 he became an independent. However, he was required to do so and worldstatesmen.org still record him as AP. Given I use worldstatesmen.org as the source of partisanship, then this would suggest a new period of cohabitation should be recorded.

One complicating factor, though, is that AP no longer exists. It merged with other parties to form the Social Democratic Alliance in 1998, though some members did not join and set up the Left-Green Movement. So, while worldstatesmen.org may be right in 1996, it cannot not correct about President Grímsson’s affiliation now. If AP still existed, then I would record a period of cohabitation. However, given it does not, then I am not recording the current period as a period of cohabitation. By the same token, I have amended the list of cohabitations for Iceland in another part of this blog.

Iceland – Parliamentary election

Iceland held a parliamentary election on Saturday. The incumbent government was a coalition of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement. Here are the results, the 2009 figures are in brackets)

  • Independence Party – 26.7% (+9.6%) – 19 seats (+10)
  • Progressive Party – 24.4% (+3%) – 19 seats (+3)
  • Social Democratic Alliance – 12.9% (-16.9%) – 9 seats (-10)
  • Left-Green Movement – 10.9% (-10.8%) – 7 seats (-4)
  • Bright Future – 8.3% – 6 seats – new
  • Pirate Party – 5.1% – 3 seats – new

No other party crossed the 5% threshold.

This is the first time that the Pirate Party has won a seat at a national election.

There are various combinations that might generate a new government, but a coalition of the Independence Party and the Progressive Party is probably most likely.

Iceland – Venice Commission reports on proposed constitutional changes

Iceland has been undergoing a process of constitutional revision. This process, which included substantial citizen involvement, resulted in a new draft constitution. The English version is available here.

In November 2012, the draft constitution was sent to the Venice Commission for its comments. The Commission has now issued its opinion. It is available here.

For the purposes of this blog, perhaps the most interesting comments concern the presidency.

For example, the Commission wonders whether direct election is necessary for such a weak president. However, given it is proposed that the president should still have the power to veto a bill and automatically generate a referendum, the Commission considers that direct election may indeed be appropriate. That said, they are not at all happy with this power. They would prefer the president to have a veto power that could be overridden by parliament or a veto that would then be considered by the courts.

Here is what the Commission’s says: “It seems most unfortunate that … the [veto] procedure is conceived as a confrontation between the main state organs – Althing and Government on one side, President on the other – with the people as arbiter. One or the other organ may result to be severely damaged by the conflict. If the President is of the opposite political colour of the majority in parliament, there is a strong temptation, especially for a directly elected President to whom not many other functions have been entrusted, to use this procedure for unpopular laws and thereby damage or reverse the government. This procedure makes the President very much a political player while otherwise he/she is more designed as a neutral Head of State.”

The other main issue in relation to the presidency is the Commission’s suggestion that the people might be given some power to initiate a recall vote for the president. Currently, such a vote can occur, but it can only be initiated by the legislature. They state: “Since the President is elected by universal suffrage, allowing the people to recall him/her from office evidently makes sense. However, placing the call for the referendum solely in the hands of Parliament and excluding the people completely from this stage of the proceeding somewhat spoils the idea of a direct responsibility of the President to the people. Hence, it might be suitable to allow also for the people to call a referendum.”

The issue of the president’s veto and the legislature’s power to initiate a recall referendum are also the subject of comment later on in the Commission’s document. Here, they leave aside the issue of a popular recall initiative and think through the potential for institutional conflict between the president and legislature. They write: “It must be said, however, that the President’s legislative veto right (and the subsequent referendum under Article 60) is a very remarkable prerogative. In the opinion of the Venice Commission, this may lead to a political crisis whose outcome would be difficult to predict. One may imagine that, in the event that the President would veto a law, the Althing could put forward the political responsibility of the President under Article 84 of the Bill. This extraordinary veto granted to the President may thus be seen as a source of danger in the democratic game, which does not match the role of a President in a balanced parliamentary system.”

Iceland Review is reporting that Alþingi’s Constitutional and Supervisory Committee has discussed the Commission’s reports and is likely to make some changes to the original draft of the new constitution. However, the report also states that the president’s veto power will not be amended. We can also safely assume that the president will remain directly elected. So, whereas changes may be made in relation to the section on human rights, it looks like no changes will be made to the role of the president, despite the Commission’s comments.

Iceland – Constitutional referendum

On Saturday, Iceland held a consultative referendum on a set of proposed constitutional revisions.

There is a nice article about the proposed revisions on ConstitutionMaking.org. It is worth remembering that the referendum on the proposed amendments was consultative. The parliament will make the final decision. However, it is difficult to imagine parliament going against the will of the people. The English text of the proposed constitutional revisions is here.

The referendum asked six questions. Here is the report on the provisional results from mbi.is:

  • 1. Do you wish the Constitution Council’s proposals to form the basis of a new draft Constitution? Yes: 65.9% No: 34.1%
  • 2. In the new Constitution, do you want natural resources that are not privately owned to be declared national property? Yes: 81.0% No: 19.0%
  • 3. Would you like to see provisions in the new Constitution on an established (national) church in Iceland? Yes: 57.4% No: 42.6%
  • 4. Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution authorizing the election of particular individuals to the Alþingi more than is the case at present? Yes: 76.4% No: 23.6%
  • 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: 56.2% No: 43.8%
  • 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 be put to a referendum? Yes: 70.8% No: 29.2%

So, even though the results are provisional, the constitution has clearly been agreed. It is now up to parliament to agree it formally and, presumably, to take account of the votes for the other more specific questions.

Iceland – Presidential election

Iceland held its presidential election on Friday. The incumbent, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, was easily returned for a fifth term. The result was somewhat of a surprise, because the polls had shown him under pressure.

Here is the result:

  • Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, 52.78%
  • Þóra Arnórsdóttir,  33.16%
  • Ari Trausti Guðmundsson 8,64%
  • Herdís Þorgeirsdóttir 2,63%
  • Andrea Ólafsdóttir 1,8%
  • Hannes Bjarnason 0,98%

Interestingly, the draft of the new Icelandic constitution, which is available here, states that the president shall serve for no more than three terms. Iceland Review reports that a referendum on the new constitution will take place no later than 20 October. It is also reporting that President Grímsson is opposing the referendum on the grounds that there is not enough consensus on the document.

Iceland – Former PM found guilty of not holding Cabinet meetings

The former prime minister of Iceland, Geir H. Haarde, was found guilty on Monday of violating the country’s constitution.

Geir H. Haarde was PM from 2006-2009. This was the time when the Icelandic economy collapsed. Subsequently, a special commission accused him of negligence in the handling of the crisis. In September 2010 parliament voted to indict him on four charges. The trial began last month.

He was tried by a special court, the Landsdómur, which was established in 1905, but which ha never been convened until now. It comprises five supreme court judges, a district court president, a constitutional law professor, and eight people chosen by parliament.

In the end, former PM Haarde was found guilty of only one charge, namely violating Article 17 of the constitution, which states: “Ministerial meetings shall be held in order to discuss new legislative proposals and important State matters. Furthermore, ministerial meetings shall be held if a Minister wishes to raise a matter there. The meetings shall be presided over by the Minister called upon by the President of the Republic to do so, who is designated Prime Minister.” By a vote of nine to six, the former PM was found guilty of not having held cabinet meetings to discuss the crisis.

According to Iceland Review, the judges concurred that it was “major recklessness not to have discussed the aforementioned matters at cabinet meetings because it was clear to him, or should have been clear, that they were of utmost importance and of the nature that, as part of the government’s economic policy, he was obligated to do so.”

There is no criminal or other penalty associated with the guilty verdict. Moreover, the state will cover all the legal costs of the trial.

Whatever about the circumstances of this particular case, it is interesting that a PM was charged, but it is remarkable that he was found guilty of not holding cabinet meetings. I wonder how many PMs elsewhere would be worried for themselves if Icelandic jurisprudence were to be applied elsewhere?

Iceland – Another presidential announcement

President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson of Iceland has gone back on his New Year declaration that seemed to suggest that he would not be standing for a fifth term in office later this year.

On 27 February, IceNews reports that a 30,000-strong petition was delivered to the president, asking him to stand again. Given the population is only slightly over 300,000 this is a fairly impressive show of support.

Anyway, in response to the petition President Grímsson has announced that he will seek re-election. However, he also hinted that he might not serve a full term. He intimated that once stability returned to Iceland, then he would stand down. This would precipitate a new election.

If President Grímsson is re-elected, then he will have served for 20 years as president. There is a review of potential opposition candidates at Iceland Review.

Iceland – Ministerial reshuffle and presidential announcement

There has been a government reshuffle in Iceland. Iceland Review is reporting that there is a new Finance Minister. In place of the previous Left-Green Minister, the Social Democrats now hold this portfolio. In return, the outgoing Left-Green Finance Minister is moving to a new super-ministry that combines (or will eventually combine) three ministries, including one that was formerly held by the Social Democrats. In the end, there will be just eight ministries.

Meanwhile, Iceland Review is also reporting that in his New Year message the president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, has announced that he will not be running for re-election later this year. He was first elected in 1996. He was returned unopposed in 2000 and 2008.

Iceland – Constitutional draft

Icenews is reporting that Iceland’s constitutional council has come up with a draft constitution. Apparently, there will be some further discussion, but the draft is due to be presented to Alþingi by 29 July.

Among the council’s recommendations, the news report identifies the following: “The President of the Republic would not be permitted to sit more than three terms; the voices of 15 percent of the electorate would be able to put bills to Alþingi and also force parliamentary issues to a referendum. The number of government ministers would be capped at ten and ministers would be forced to give up their Alþingi seats”.

There is a Google translate version of the draft in English available here.

What strikes me is that Icelanders must be pretty happy with their constitution. To me, the result of a very wide-ranging and democratic consultation process is likely to be a set of changes that are fairly cosmetic. Iceland’s new constitution is likely to look very much like Iceland’s old constitution.

Iceland – President/PM rivalry

I couldn’t resist using the same headline as the post on Russia earlier this week. However, this time it applies to Iceland!

My Icelandic not being very strong, all I have to go on is a post in The Reykjavík Grapevine. This is usually a very reliable blog. So, I’m happy to cite it.

Anyway, there is a recent post there that identifies tensions between the president and the PM in Iceland. The story goes like this.

A Special Investigative Commission was set up to examine the causes of Iceland’s 2008 financial meltdown. The Commission’s report identified the president as a ‘cheerleader’ for Icelandic business in the years prior to the collapse. This might seem like a good thing, but it is being taken as a criticism of the president because it appears as if he was instrumental in inflating Iceland’s financial bubble. In response, the government is proposing a new set of ethics regulations. They will apply to ministers and parliament, but also to the president. Anyway, President Grímsson has taken umbrage at the proposal in relation to his office, calling the regulations “an audacious intervention in the relationship between parliament and the office of the president”.

Who said that the Icelandic president was purely a figurehead?