Populism fee-vah: Iceland to draft ordinary citizens to write new constitution
posted at 8:30 pm on November 26, 2010 by Allahpundit
It’s not quite the Buckleyan dream of being governed by the first 400 names in the phone book, but it’s as close as we’ll ever get.
On Twitter, Karl suggests a name for the project: The Iced Tea Party.
“This is the first time in the history of the world that a nation’s constitution is reviewed in such a way, by direct democratic process,” says Berghildur Erla Bergthorsdottir, spokeswoman for the committee entrusted with organizing the Constitutional Assembly…
The constitutional assembly will be made up of 25 to 31 delegates, the final number to be determined by a gender and equality ratio. It will be made up of regular citizens elected by direct personal voting. Anyone is eligible to stand for election, with the exceptions of the president, lawmakers and the committee appointed to organize the assembly.
The assembly will draft a proposed new constitution next year. They will use material from another extraordinary project earlier this year in which 1,000 randomly chosen Icelanders — aged 18-89 — offered their views on what should be in the constitution.
Now the race is on to be among the charter’s authors, with 523 people in the running. Truck drivers, university professors, lawyers, journalists and computer geeks are all among the candidates. All have been given equal air time on Icelandic radio to make their platforms known.
Since the country’s financial system melted down two years ago and a parliamentary inquiry revealed systemic corruption in the government, the public’s been desperate for a jolt of hope and a dose of change. So they’re startin’ fresh — so fresh that, as noted in the blockquote, practically the only citizens ineligible to draft the new law are … the sitting parliament. I’m tempted to call this a grand gimmick to placate a restless country, but a constitutional convention ain’t no gimmick. In fact, it reminds me of the National Assembly, albeit with the intriguing twist that not only is the current government not resisting, they’re actually helping it along. Is Icelandic society so fragile that this is the most stable option for the ruling regime? Even though it’s an open question whether the current constitutional system is contributing to Iceland’s problems in the first place?
As for electing the reps, the idea of a truck driver taking a break from the rig to help draft a new national constitution is irresistible to you and me, but I’m thinking it might not be so irresistible to a voter who has to live with the results thereafter. Icelanders could go two ways on this: Either treat it as a normal election, in which case the usual crop of successful professionals and well-credentialed eggheads are likely to prevail (with a few ordinary joes thrown in), or embrace the populism in earnest by making the convention overwhelmingly blue-collar. I’m hoping they go the latter route just because it’d be a fascinating experiment, but my hunch is that because they have so little information about the candidates to go on — and because, with only 30 seats available, every seat is crucially important — they’re more likely to “play it safe” and opt for the professional class. Or, if they’re feeling really anarchic and nihilistic about the country’s future, they could elect a bunch of joke candidates and see what they come up with when they put their heads together. Alternate headline: “Greatest reality show evah.”
If you’re hungry for more, an Icelandic journalist writing at HuffPo has a provocative proposal of her own for the convention. She wants them to establish a permanent citizens’ assembly that will meet for two weeks at the end of every parliamentary term to review laws passed, court decisions issued, treaties ratified, you name it. Anything they find to be against the national interest would then be put to a national referendum and overturned if a majority of the public opposes it. Hmmmmm. Exit question: Do tea partiers dig the idea of an “ordinary joe” constitutional convention or would they prefer something more oligarchic along the lines of the Continental Congress? Adams, Madison, and Jefferson may have been proud populist patriots but they were supremely well educated for men of their era (Harvard, Princeton, and William and Mary, respectively). Too elitist to draft the new supreme law?