Sunday October 21, 2012
Iceland votes on 'crowdsourced' constitution
REYKJAVIK: Icelanders voted Saturday in a consultative referendum on what has been dubbed the world's first "crowdsourced constitution", but turnout was sluggish amid fears politicians would ignore the results.
The new basic law was drafted by 25 ordinary citizens and includes proposals made on Twitter and Facebook.
On Saturday, voters were to answer six questions on topics such as the role of the country's natural resources and of the national church with a simple yes or no.
But amid uncertainty over whether lawmakers would implement the results, voter turnout at Reykjavik's polling stations seemed to trail other referenda.
"I've been at sea and have not had much time to think about these matters. Besides I don't think it really matters because there is no certainty that the will of the voters will prevail," said Gunnar Olafsson, a fisherman.
In Reykjavik's northern constituency, 13.07 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 1400 GMT.
By comparison, 21.62 percent had voted at the same time last year, when Icelanders for the second time decided whether to approve a deal to compensate Britain and The Netherlands for the 2008 collapse of Icesave bank.
"Turnout is picking up," said Katrin Theodorsdottir, head of Reykjavik North's election committee, about mid-day.
The six questions on the ballot were chosen by a committee of 25 ordinary citizens elected in 2010 to review the country's constitution. They in turn took to the Internet to solicit the views of their fellow Icelanders.
"To me this was not a difficult choice. I think the people should decide how the constitution is," said pensioner Margret Einarsdottir, another voter.
Others expressed doubts over whether that would be the case.
"I am not sure what the politicians will do with the results. It is not certain that the outcome of this election will be what we may see in a new constitution," said Sigurdur Gudmundsson, a driver.
The complexity of the ballots means results are not expected to be announced until Sunday.
Iceland's financial collapse in 2008 during the global economic crisis provoked huge social movements and the demand that any new constitution be drawn up by ordinary citizens became irresistible.
From April to July 2011 a popularly elected 25-strong group, drawn from different backgrounds, worked on a constitutional project and then put it online so people could contribute their ideas. Hundreds did so.
The draft legislation for a new constitution was submitted to the country's parliament, the Althing, at the end of July 2011.
In May this year it was decided to seek the opinion of the island's inhabitants on six issues.
Beyond questions involving the country's state church and the ownership of natural resources, citizens will be asked to vote on the country's future democratic system, in particular the use of referenda and the voting system.
The country's basic law dates back to Iceland's independence from Denmark in 1944 and it has long been accepted that it needs revision.
"The proposals of the constitutional committee... are major improvements in the form of he country's government," social democratic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir told the Althing Thursday.
"Should we make these proposals the basis of a new constitution? My answer is 'yes'," she said.
The opposition is calling for a 'no' vote. The Independence party, in power for much of the last century thinks the plan needs more detailed examination.
"It's up to the elected parliament to take matters in hand," the party's vice-president Olof Nordal told state television.
The tabloid newspaper DY said in an editorial ahead of the voter the referendum "seeks above all to make society better and to eliminate the forces of corruption from it.".
"The constitution is everybody's business and should be written in each person's terms." - AFP