The results of Saturday’s national referendum on the Constitutional Council’s proposals for a new Constitution have been interpreted in various ways. However, the leaders of all political parties agree that it is a clear message from the nation to the parliament.
“It is a clear message that the nation is sending us politicians to complete this process,” Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir told RÚV.
“Seventy percent of voters either didn’t show up or said ‘no.’ However, out of those who did vote, a clear majority wants the proposals of the Constitutional Council to form a basis for a new Constitution,” added chairman of the opposition’s Independence Party, Bjarni Benediktsson.
“I consider this a clear message… to all parliamentarians of all parties to work on this issue and complete it,” commented Álfheiður Ingadóttir, chair of the Left-Green parliamentary party.
“In regard to the first question the results are certainly inconclusive and must mean that the parliament will work on the proposals of the Constitutional Council,” agreed Chair of the opposition’s Progressive Party Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.
“The high voter turnout is unique in the world. It is much higher than in our neighboring countries that regularly hold national referendums,” stated MP for the opposition’s Movement Þór Saari.
When asked whether the public trusts MPs to complete the process of writing a new Constitution—recent surveys have indicated that faith in the parliament is very low—PM Jóhanna responded, “We might say that we are on a trial period; the nation has put us to the test, whether we can complete this matter before the next election [in spring 2013].”
Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir is pleased with the results of the question about the National Church of Iceland where 57.1 percent of voters said they wanted to include provisions about the church in the Constitution.
It was the only question where voters disagreed with the Constitutional Council, ruv.is reports.
Agnes interprets the results as a declaration of support for the church. “It is joyous news for the National Church of Iceland and in my opinion shows support for the good work that we have carried out for the church; people appreciate it.”
Chairperson of the Constitutional Council Salvör Nordal told ruv.is that the fact that 66.3 percent of voters said ‘yes’ to the first question as to whether the council’s proposals should form a basis for a new Constitution shows faith in its work.
It is important to thoroughly analyze the results and take the next steps carefully, she said. “I find it very important… to reach a broad solidarity on changes to the Constitution. Not to make big declarations in the first hours or days but handle the issue with cool-headedness and show intent to reach solidarity on the next steps.”
In regard to voter turnout, Salvör responded 48.9 percent was a higher turnout that she had expected. Discussions about the referendum in the past weeks encouraged people to go vote, she reasoned.
As the referendum is non-binding, Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, will ultimately decide whether the draft will be used as a guideline for a new Constitution, which would replace the existing Constitution from 1944.
Chair of the Administration and Supervision Committee of Alþingi Valgerður Bjarnadóttir said a bill for a new Constitution could be ready within two weeks.
According to Valgerður, the bill would be presented to parliament for debate before being put to a vote; a process she believes could be finished before the parliamentary elections in the spring. Voting on a new Constitution, she said, could be held alongside the 2013 parliamentary elections.
Click here to read the final results of Saturday’s referendum.