You Say You Want a Constitution?

The Beatles' song "Revolution" has been in my mind all day. That's because this morning I woke up as a newly elected representative to the country's new constitutional assembly.
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Today, Iceland celebrates 92 years as a sovereign country. This morning I woke up as a newly elected representative to the country's new constitutional assembly. The Beatles' song "Revolution" has been in my mind all day. The assembly is a direct result of the Pots and Pans Revolution which took place in Iceland after the banking crisis tanked the country's economy just over two years ago.

The current Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, has advocated the review of the country's constitution by a constitutional assembly for many years, but it took a systemic collapse to get the process going. The financial collapse has brought out distrust in society. Trust in parliament has never been lower. Trust in the government, in politics, in the fundamental institutions of society is at a historic low. So the constitutional assembly is an experiment, an attempt at social engineering. We are trying to restore our social contract and create trust.

The assembly has, nonetheless, been hotly contested. Many felt it was fiscally unsound to spend money on it during a recession. Some even feared that there wouldn't be enough candidates to fill the 25 seats. Reality turned out quite differently. 525 people submitted their candidacy and voters could choose between 522 on Saturday, November 27th. This was the first time the single transferable vote (STV) system was used in Iceland, where voters are used to electing parties in a proportional representation (PR) system. With this number of candidates, a single district, and no parties to guide voters through the process, it is perhaps no wonder that the turnout was only around 36%. But 80,000+ voters, of the 230,000 who could vote, nonetheless turned out and cast their vote, giving 25 people the mandate to write a new constitution -- or amend the old one -- in the spring of next year.

Of the 25 people there are 15 men and 10 women. This was the first election in Iceland to include a mandatory gender quota. If there had been less than 40% of one sex, either men or women, up to 6 people more could have been asked to serve. Given that women were only 1/3 of the candidates, it must be considered a victory for the women's movement that 40% of those elected were women.

The assembly will meet in February and is given a minimum of two and up to four months to complete its task. In line with the national demand for transparency I plan on blogging about the process, not only in Icelandic, but also in English, and I hope to get suggestions from readers on how to create a constitution.

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