Election of a Constitutional Assembly in Iceland 2010

Posted by David Farrell (written by James Gilmour)

Following the financial crisis, demonstrations and riots outside the Parliament (Althingi), early elections in April 2009, and a significant change of government, the Icelandic Parliament voted on 16 June 2010 to set up a directly elected Constitutional Assembly “for the purpose of reviewing the Constitution of the Republic”. (Iceland has a written Constitution.)

The Constitutional Assembly has a very broad remit and is specifically tasked to address the following:
1. The foundations of the Icelandic constitution and its fundamental concepts;
2. The organisation of the legislative and executive branches and the limits of their powers;
3. The role and position of the President of the Republic;
4. The independence of the judiciary and their supervision of other holders of governmental powers;
5. Provisions on elections and electoral districts;
6. Public participation in the democratic process, including the timing and organisation of a referendum, including a referendum on a legislative bill for a constitutional act;
7. Transfer of sovereign powers to international organisations and the conduct of foreign affairs;
8. Environmental matters, including the ownership and utilisation of natural resources.
The Constitutional Assembly is also empowered to address additional matters beyond “reviewing the Constitution of the Republic”.

The Constitutional Assembly is to prepare a draft Constitutional Bill which will be submitted to the Althingi. If passed, the amendments to the Constitution are likely to be put to the electorate in a national referendum in 2012.

The election is scheduled for 27 November 2010. The Assembly must convene no later than 15 February 2011 and must conclude its work no later than 15 April 2011 (unless the Althingi votes for an extension). The members of the Constitutional Assembly will work full-time and will be entitled to leave of absence from their normal work for the duration of the Assembly, when they will be paid the same salary as an MP.

The 25 members will be elected by STV-PR, using the Weighted Inclusive Gregory Method (WIGM) of calculating transfer values, very similar to but slightly different from that currently used for the Local Government STV-PR elections in Scotland. There is a 40% sex-balance rule that is to be applied after the STV-PR election for the 25 places has been completed. If candidates of either sex do not have at least 10 of the 25 seats (“two-fifths”), additional seats will be allocated to the under-represented sex to bring representation of that sex up to “two-fifths”, subject to a limit of six additional seats. These additional seats would be allocated to the required number of the last eliminated candidates of the under-represented sex.

The whole of Iceland will form one 25-member constituency (electoral district) for this special election and some 180,000 electors are expected to vote. At the close of nominations at noon on Monday, 18 October “more than 500” nominations had been received; validation is in progress. Candidates will be identified by their names, occupation and municipality in which they live. Each candidate will be allocated a random 3-digit code, excluding combinations starting “00” and such combinations as “101”. Candidates’ statements are already being posted the Facebook pages of the Assembly website.

The ballot paper will have 25 ‘preference lines’, labelled successively something like “My first choice”, “My second choice”, etc, down the ballot paper. To vote, an elector will write the 3 digit codes for his or her successive choices in clearly marked boxes on each ‘preference line’, as few or as many as each elector wishes up to the maximum of 25. The ballot papers will be scanned and the votes will counted by an STV counting program.

Details of the Constitutional Assembly (and the Constitution) are available on the website. A limited amount of information is available in Official English (top right link), but Google Translate will provide a readable translation of the other pages.

James Gilmour 21 October 2010

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9 thoughts on “Election of a Constitutional Assembly in Iceland 2010

  1. 25 seats is the largest magnitude ever to use STV, isn’t it?
    Moreover, there are ‘more than 500′ candidates and normally, the number of counting rounds is the same (or slightly less) as the number of candidates. Voting is by hand on printed ballots, but ‘electronic
    means may be used in counting ballots and calculating which candidates have been elected.’ (art. 13).

  2. A truly fascinating idea! Maybe someone could clarify, but it looks to me as though the ‘what happens once the assembly makes its recommendations’ part leaves a good deal of discretion to the legislature. It cannot be any other way, I suppose, but it seems to me that the parliament still has the power to block or substantially water down proposals before they are put to the public. My preference is for such assemblies to put their proposals before the public via a direct referedum that is automatically triggered (i.e., triggered without a parliamentary vote) once they have reached their conclusions. For instance, in the netherlands, there was a CA set up to review their (highly party-centered) national list voting system – it came up with reform proposals but because the parlimanet (i.e., the government) was a ‘veto player’ the reforms proposed were never put to the people. For me, this element is absolutely vital to the design of CAs.

  3. Pity they didn’t just stick with what they used for the 2009 assembly: random sampling. What came out of that was a rather nice framework for a constitution.

  4. Bancki, I believe you are correct. NSW and Cork City Council are runners-up with 21 each by STV, followed by the first (and only) direct election for the Senate of the Irish Free State, in 1925 (19 seats – 15 for full terms, 4 to fill vacancies).

  5. Pingback: What is a Citizens’ Assembly? « politicalreform.ie

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