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Icelanders approve their crowdsourced constitution

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A constitution is a deeply serious thing: the bedrock of a country’s identity. So Iceland’s decision to let the general populace participate in the drafting of its new constitution – via social media such as Facebook and Twitter – was a bold move.

And it seems to be paying off. On Saturday the country held a referendum asking voters six questions about the draft, the first of which was whether they wanted to go ahead with using it as the basis for their new constitution. Two thirds voted yes.

Which makes sense, if you think about it. Give the people a chance to feed into the drafting, taking advantage of the internet’s convenience and low barriers, and they’ll stand behind the result.

Out of the ashes

Here’s a quick run-down of the background to all this. Iceland’s banking system collapsed right at the start of the financial crisis, taking the country’s government with it. The new leadership decided to go the open route, not least because secretive dealings were largely to blame for the banking fiasco.

There were two technologically interesting spinoffs of this situation. One was the creation of the Modern Media Initiative (now the International Modern Media Institute), a Wikileaks-inspired free speech drive – the idea here is to turn Iceland into an haven for free speech by inviting media organizations from around the world to host their sites in Iceland’s green data centers and enjoy the country’s strong new protections for whistleblowers and the like.

The other was the constitutional crowdsourcing. Iceland’s old constitution was based on that of former master Denmark and was seen as out-of-date, so 25 citizens were brought into into a Constitutional Council to help create a new one. The council took the ideas raised online by their fellow citizens and delivered the resulting draft in July last year. It took a while to ask the voting public at large what it thought of the result, but Iceland now has its answer to that question.

According to reports, nearly half of Iceland’s 235,000 eligible voters took part in the referendum, and 66 percent of those people said they wanted the new official constitution to be based on the crowdsourced draft.

But that result is non-binding, and the parliament now has to decide whether or not it’s going to turn the draft into reality.

As in the case of Finland’s crowdsourced laws, elected representatives are given the final say over proposals made online. In a representative democracy, that’s pretty much how things should work – if you elect people to represent you, you’re entrusting them with doing just that.

The important thing in both the Icelandic and Finnish cases is that technology is being used to give more normal people a say, while ensuring that the politicians are forced to listen and cannot just sweep popular proposals under the carpet. Because the clever thing with crowdsourcing is that the proposals are public and open and impossible to ignore.

Now it’s up to the Icelandic parliament to show it’s taking this process seriously. We won’t have long to wait to see whether or not this is the case: the constitution is supposed to be finalized before the next election, in the spring of 2013.

30 Responses to “Icelanders approve their crowdsourced constitution”

  1. Direct democracy is a form of democracy in which people vote on policy initiatives directly, as opposed to a corrupt representative democracy in which people vote for political cronies who then vote on policy initiatives that suit their own purpose. Icelanders have also solved their economic problems the same way by voting to refuse bank bailouts. This tiny NATION is a beacon of sanity.

  2. PrincetonAl

    The majority of constitutions in the world guarantee freedom of speech. In reality, very few countries do. Thus, its not just what goes into the constitution that matters.

    Its the system of checks and balances, the respect for those balances and institutions, that get created by the citizens to manage the overwhelming historically validated trend for governments to only want to increase their power over citizenry that matters.

    Icelandic constitution is full of contradictory notions that will ultimately leave it to the Althingi to resolve the balance between citizen right’s and what they can be compelled to do by the government. Their constitution is not the ending and savior of their rights, but barely the beginning.

    I wish all Icelanders good luck. The price of freedom and liberty is vigilance.

    • itsa terrible

      Yes and it says the governments own rules are not subject to change but the citizens rights all are… by law. So the government just has to make a law that says the citizens have no rights.
      Effective in 10 days and any citizen that brings a referendum against the government shall be shot within 30 days. That is the law until the hearing on the referendum. Which takes two years. When the citizen fails to appear due to death, well to bad. Even if you were to live and show up and win. Not likely. Then the government gets to decide how you win!
      read it …thats what it says

    • itsa terrible

      They completely threw away a chance to change the world.
      How about these rules for the politicians.
      Every candidate must submit to a drug test and be tested at random times during her/his time in office.
      Is 4 tmes a year too much for representatives who.
      With the stroke of a pen can start wars or put the people into unpayable debt?
      Every candidate must write down what he/she will and will not do while in office.
      Any deviation from what they wrote and they are fired immediately.
      Also the section on international law superseding Icelands law!!
      What if international law says you must bail out banks or no country can have a constitution!
      It would make all this pretty pointless wouldn’t it.
      Its a constitution that results in Iceland losing its sovereignty.

      • itsa terrible

        To Mr Edward Muenzenberger
        Hi ,thanks for the reply
        Good job, taking on All that I was saying. As for the drug testing. We do have that politician instilled 40 year drug war thing. So its my little goose/gander moment. The new… politicians would all fail the drug tests and be fired dream. But seriously they always do the exact opposite of what any sane person would do.
        Spend some time watch. george carlin the last HBO ones, He died a couple years ago and was glad to go. bill hicks, fknnewz, larken rose, they said all that needs to be said on the drug issues. Then they explained how our relationship with the political class really works. you tube it.