Iceland Reforming its Constitution Via Facebook

Iceland Reforming its Constitution Via Facebook
A 25-person committee working on the new Magna Carta receives citizens’ proposals over the Web
El País: Islandia reforma la Constitución vía Facebook
June 27, 2011

Bob Tackett, via Facebook: “You could put something in the new Icelandic Constitution about extraterrestrials. That would probably be a first.” This is one of the comments from well-wishers. Patrick Donnelly’s proposal: “Every citizen will automatically have a savings account in a national bank tied to his identification document.” It could happen. A 25-person assembly elected from 522 Icelanders age 18 and over are working against the clock to finish a reform of the Constitution of Iceland before the end of July. The current document is a replica of the Danish Constitution of 1944, the only difference being that the word “president” was substituted for “king”, and it became a major target for protestors during the 2008 financial crisis. The reform committee is receiving suggestions from its citizens over the Web (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flicker), which is exactly what it wants.

“If we don’t have the citizens participate now,” said committee member Katrin Oddsdóttir in a phone conversation, “They won’t feel a sense of ownership toward the new document.” The bank collapses of 2008 put Iceland on the ropes. Rejection of the social contract, represented every Saturday of that fall in protests in front of Parliament in Reykjavic, pushed out the government, forced an advance election, and opened the door to constitutional reform. A National Forum of 950 elected officers produced the 700-page document which the assembly, and web-surfing citizens, are now refining.

Live Debates
“We were afraid the participants would be rude,” said Oddsdóttir, “But they haevn’t been; rather, they’ve had great respect and concern for the process.” That process is the following: the assembly has opened an official website in Icelandic and English. Citizens can read its contents and send their own proposals or comment on those that have already been posted on an embedded Facebook page (which has been the primary channel of discussion; the site’s public profiles on the Web and Twitter have also sparked foreigners’ interest in the initiative). A computer regulates the flow of the information, an editor the contents. Every Thursday, the assembly reunites and debates the Internauts’ contributions to Democracy 2.0 on a live web feed.

According to Oddsdóttir’s data, the constitutional reform project has already received around 2000 comments, a not insignificant number given the country only has 320,000 residents (two thirds of whom have Facebook profiles). It has established a new model of societal response to crisis. Four themes, among many others, distinguish themselves in the open political dialogue over the web between the assembly and the citizens: the role of religion, the separation of legislative and executive power, animal protection, and care for the environment.

Six weeks away from the constitutional assembly’s deadline, the approval method is not very clear. Regardless, the assembly has pledged to present a document which includes the citizens’ new ideas and amendments. After that, there will be a national referendum and, if it passes, a vote by the Icelandic Parliament. The channel is open this very moment, still accumulating messages from within Iceland and without. “If I could say one thing I’ve learned over the last two months,” said Oddsdóttir, “It’s that you can trust the people.”

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