Lift13, Gudrun Pétursdóttir: Icelandic Constitution

Here are my live notes of the Lift Conference session “Democracy in Distress: Re-engineering Participation.” Keep an eye open for mistakes, inaccuracies, and other flakiness due to live-blogging.
Gudrun Pétursdóttir

From the Californian dream to the cold reality of the Icelandic quest for a Constitution for the people by the people.

Economic collapse in 2008. Huge amount of public anger. Demanded a cleaner and reformed constitution.

Iceland has been independent since 1944 (before: Denmark). Hasty constitution adopted with great national support (98%). Was to be revised very soon but it never happened in the hands of the Parliament. Maybe they weren’t the right ones to deal with it? Vested interests.

How they did it: put together a national assembly which had only one role, work on the constitution. Random sample, 18-92. Very well-prepared. In one 8-hour day of work, they had drafted out the major points that the constitution should include, and were able to publish it online the very next day.

25 people elected from the general public (anybody could run) form the Constitutional Council. Worked for 4 months solid (leave of absence from their work). Draft proposals posted on the website and open to public comments. 3600 comments. 370 formal suggestions processed by the Council. So we have a bill which took shape in the Council but with open exchange of opinion with the community. General feeling of being able to participate.

After 4 months the Council presented to the president of the parliament a bill for the new constitution — which had to be done in a way that was in line with the old constitution: only the parliament can change the constitution.

A year and a half later the constitutional bill is still under deliberation by the parliament. Heck. Conventional party-political practices: the opposition has to be against, by principle anything the ruling majority supports.

The question remains: will the parliament manage to complete the task that the public has contributed so much to? Dreary and pessimistic last slide. Whatever happens however, Iceland will never accept to go back to the previous ways of having the Parliament only work on the new constitution. They have tasted participation. steph-note: that’s depressing

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