In an article on visir.is, Þorvaldur Gylfason, a member of the constitutional council, argues that the size of parliament should be reduce from 63 to 53 seats. Þorvaldur, a former colleague at the University of Iceland, had actually asked me to put together a short summary about research on the size of legislature before the Supreme Court invalidated the outcome of the election to the Constitutional Assembly – at which point I put the matter aside and then, apparently, forgot about it. Þorvaldur’s article was a timely reminder so here are my two cents.
The ability of the Icelandic president to refer legislation to a referendum has been source of controversy every since the president used his veto for the first time in 2004 to veto a bill on the ownership of the media. The episode lead to much debate that was primarily focused on whether the president’s actions were actually constitutional – a different clause in the constitution states that the president’s powers are exercised by the government’s ministers. The debate was legalistic and basically focused on competing interpretations of the constitutions. Regardless of what interpretation is ‘correct’, the episode highlights the limits of the legalistic discourse that has surrounded the Icelandic constitution – and still appears to surround the making of the new constitution. Continue reading
The Constitutional Council’s proposal for the election of members of Althingi includes a fairly radical, although not unexpected change, proposing a system of preferential voting. The proposal is a little short on details, which will be provided in a legislation about parliamentary elections. However, the proposal stipulates that 63 members will be elected from eight or fewer districts and that voters can either vote for a party list or individual candidates. If the voters opt for voting for individual candidates they are allowed to distribute their votes across candidates of different parties and are free to vote candidate running in any district (if there is more than one district). The electoral law can require up to 2/5 of the seats in parliament to be elected from district lists (rather than a national list).
The constitutional council’s proposal includes proposals intended to strengthen parliament vis-a-vis the executive office. These proposals include handing legislative committees (monopoly?) proposal power and requiring ministers to give up their seats in parliament upon taking office. The council’s explanations envision a process in which ministers approach the committees about proposing legislation, which is then developed by the committees. By requiring ministers to resign their seat in parliament, the council hopes that ministers will to a greater degree not come from the ranks of MPs. In short, it is not likely that these proposal will do much to strengthen parliament.
The constitutional council has begun publishing its proposals for sections of a new constitutions. So far these sections include human rights, the work of parliament, and the judiciary. With this post, I start reviewing some of the proposals concerning the organization and work of parliament. I will focus on the proposals that may be considered consequential or controversial. In translating the proposals I focus on what are the key issues rather than provide a full translation.
Despite lack of activity on this blog, constitutional reform in Iceland moves forward. After the Supreme Court invalidated the outcome of the election, the government moved ahead to simply appoint the candidates that would have won a seat – in effect showing the courts the middle finger. And as a result the title of the blog is now
outdated updated as the assembly is now the Constitutional Council. Continue reading