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Is This the End of Iceland's Crowdsourced Constitution?

BY Julia Wetherell | Wednesday, April 3 2013

Icelandic citizens who drafted the constitution last year. (Skrifstofa Stjórnlagaráðs / Flickr)

When Iceland faced a fiscal catastrophe in 2008, residents took to the streets with pots and pans to demand change from the government.  Leaders in the country took the spirit of the crowd to heart. In 2011, Iceland announced that it would be crowdsourcing its next constitution, an effort that ultimately resulted in a full draft bill.  Yet amid Iceland’s election season and the turmoil to determine the country’s future, the crowdsourced constitution has now been effectively scrapped. 

A group of several hundred Icelanders were elected by lottery to participate in reviewing the draft of the new constitution, which was directly written by a smaller group of 25 citizens including lawyers, journalists, and academics (among them was political science professor Silja Ómarsdóttir, who techPresident wrote about in July).  The process was broadcast extensively on social media, where citizens were invited to comment on drafts of new clauses through Facebook and Twitter.

The draft was sent for review in the fall to Iceland’s parliament. But Parliament was dissolved last week, in advance of the April 27 election, after which a new parliament will be assembled.  This leaves the new constitution in limbo.   

Since Iceland has a population of just over 300,000, the proportion of citizens involved directly in the constitution draft process was quite significant, even more so if online participants are taken into consideration.  Although the initiative’s social media pages don’t seem to have much activity beyond the initial draft period in 2011-2012, the backlash from Icelanders since the fate of the document was put into question has been vehement. 

In echoes of 2008, citizens have been protesting outside of Parliament and calling for answers on the future of the constitutions. After April’s election, the document will be put to referendum, and ratified if 40 percent of the country’s eligible voters approve it.  Since voter turnout in the 2011 parliamentary elections was about 5 percent below that mark, this may mean the end of the crowdsourced constitution. 

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.