In Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic Anne of Windy Poplars (1936), Little Elizabeth Grayson, repressed by her grandmother and an old wicked maid, dreams of Tomorrow. In the Land of Tomorrow everything is better than Today.
In Eurythmics’ hit from 1986, of which I thought while reading of Little Elizabeth’s dreams, Annie Lennox sings to her sleeping sweetheart “you need someone to depend upon when tomorrow comes” and “I can’t wait, when tomorrow comes.”
When tomorrow comes, Icelanders will get the unique opportunity to vote on their new Constitution. They are asked to pass judgment on six questions relating to suggestions made by the Constitutional Council, which may change our society for good.
The referendum is not binding. However, if the nation is clear on its opinion of certain aspects of the Constitution, the parliament is likely to respect it.
As stated in a booklet on the referendum distributed to every voter, the parliament has held advisory referendums three times, in 1908, 1916 and 1933, and in all cases the results were accepted.
These are the questions on the ballot:
1. Do you wish the Constitution Council’s proposals to form the basis of a new draft Constitution?
2. In the new Constitution, do you want natural resources that are not privately owned to be declared national property?
3. Would you like to see provisions in the new Constitution on an established (national) church in Iceland?
4. Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution authorizing the election of particular individuals to the Alþingi more than is the case at present?
5. Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution giving equal weight to votes cast in all parts of the country?
6. Would you like to see a provision in the new Constitution stating that a certain proportion of the electorate is able to demand that issues be put to a referendum?
In the case of each of these questions, voters can either tick ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
For further information about these questions, the current arrangement and the Constitutional Council’s proposals, visit the referendum’s website which includes information in English, and here you can read the Constitutional Council’s draft in full.
I have written about my opinion of the draft constitution on earlier occasions.
The draft is disputed, as was to be expected, and national broadcaster RÚV has done a good job in covering the questions facing voters at tomorrow’s referendum from all sides.
Efforts have also been made to bring the matter closer to young voters; on attavitinn.is some of the questions and fundamental issues are explained by rapper and media personality Erpur Eyvindarson, who is held in high regard by younger audiences.
On sans.is, the recently-founded Union for a New Constitution promotes the referendum with the aid of actors, musicians and other national celebrities to encourage a good turnout—which was shamefully low, 36 percent, at the Constitutional Council election.
Tomorrow's referendum has garnered international attention and not only in Iceland are people hoping for a good turnout. Canadian filmmakers who have just completed their documentary about the banking collapse in 2008 and the aftermath, including the Constitutional Council, have decided to release it for free online viewing to that effect.
As I write this, a campaign bus for Dögun, a new political party running at the 2013 parliamentary election, just drove by to promote the referendum with a person shouting from a megaphone.
Scrawled across the side of the bus was the question: Would we rather have a new Constitution or a latte? Can I have both, please? I’ll reward myself with a cup after voting.
After careful consideration, I’m going to place my faith in the Constitutional Council, whom I believe have made a thorough and admirable job.
I’m not alone in that view. Three scholars who took part in collaborative research on constitutions in various countries concluded in an article about the Constitutional Council’s draft constitution that it is “tremendously innovative and participatory.”
The draft isn’t perfect, as the winner of the Constitutional Council election, Þorvaldur Gylfason, has pointed out himself, but it includes some groundbreaking changes to our administration, which in my opinion, will make Iceland a better place to live in.
I especially favor its suggestions on clearer separation of the legislative and executive.
As for the issues specifically asked about in the referendum, it will be particularly pleasing to declare natural resources national property, abolish the church from the Constitution and support the election of individuals to parliament.
All of these are steps towards a more democratic and just community.
The referendum has been criticized as voters are being asked to give their opinion on an “unfinished draft” and because it will lead to uncertainty, as Supreme Court lawyer Reimar Pétursson stated on RÚV’s news magazine Kastljós on October 9.
Critics are accused of interpreting history in their own favor. Reimar also stated that 97 percent of voters had accepted the current Constitution from 1944 and that it is still valid.
Historian Guðni Th. Jóhannesson pointed out in his speech in a public meeting held by the Constitutional Society on Wednesday that in 1944 people voted on whether Iceland should become independent from Denmark but weren’t specifically thinking about about the Constitution.
Also, the Constitution was always meant to be preliminary and a number of politicians of different parties have called for it to be reviewed through the decades, as did President of Iceland Sveinn Björnsson in his New Year’s Address in 1949.
How “unfinished” the current draft constitution is depends largely on how the parliament reacts to tomorrow’s referendum. Parliamentarians have hinted that they will not make any substantial amendments to the draft, although they have not been ruled out either.
As for the uncertainty, it’s true that we won’t know what tomorrow will bring. This whole process is experimental, something that has never been tried before. But that’s part of what’s so exciting about it and I believe it will prove a successful experiment.
I’ve started to long for the Land of Tomorrow, to move forward from the stagnation of Today, and I just can’t wait, when tomorrow comes.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected]