Icelanders back first ‘crowdsourced constitution’


Iceland residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new Constitution written by a Constitutional Council of 25 citizens who gathered feedback through social media. 

The ballot, which is non-binding, included six questions written by the Constitutional Council, to which voters could either respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The vote was held on Saturday (19 October).

The process to draft a new constitution began after the country's 2008 financial meltdown prompted calls for reforms (see background).

A new basic law is due to replace the existing Constitution from 1944, which is largely inspired by the Danish constitution of the time and is seen as anachronism. Iceland used to be a colony of Denmark.

In July 2011, the Constitutional Council presented its draft to Parliament. The text, consisting of 114 articles, has been put together with feedback gathered via social networking websites Facebook and Twitter. News media have dubbed the new Icelandic basic law as the world's first "crowdsourced constitution".

Backers of change hope that politicians will not ignore the referendum, even though parliament is responsible for adopting a new constitution and the main opposition party has said it opposes proposed changes.

Initial results showed that 66% of participants voted in favour of a Constitution drafted by the Council. Nearly half of the island's 235,000 eligible voters participated.

More than 80% voted to declare all non-privately owned natural resources as “national property”. Fishing accounts for about 7% of the economy and critics say that fishing rights have benefited a select few. Backers of the system say it has led to sound management of fish stocks.

Residents also voted to allow the Evangelical Lutheran Church to retain its role as state church (see the vote result to all six questions).

Valgerður Bjarnadóttir, who chairs the Icelandic Parliament's Administration and Supervision Committee, says a bill for a new Constitution could be ready within two weeks.

The bill would be presented to Parliament for debate before being put to a vote, a process she believes could be finished before the parliamentary elections in the spring. Voting on a new Constitution, she said, could be held alongside the elections.

Iceland was hit severely by the 2008 global financial crisis and economic downturn that followed.

Iceland's banking-sector assets had grown from about 96% of GDP in 2000 to about 800% by the end of 2006, and were worth around 10 times its GDP on the eve of the crisis. 

Iceland's centre-right government collapsed in January 2009 as a result of the crisis. In the summer of 2009, Iceland's parliament backed the new government's plan to begin accession talks with the European Union. Only one year later, the country started EU accession talks

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