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Steingrímur J. Sigfússon
Photo: Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament Steingrímur J. Sigfússon..

Parliament Operations Changed to Eliminate Filibusters

Speaker of Parliament Steingrímur J. Sigfússon introduced changes to parliament operations yesterday, intended to discourage filibusters, RÚV reports. Rebuttals won’t be allowed for repeated five-minute speeches and echoing, or rebuttals to speeches from members of the same party as the original orator will not be allowed. This is intended to discourage filibusters, following the record-breaking 150-hour filibuster in the discussion of the Adoption of the EU’s third energy package this spring.

Parliament will also last longer into the summer than before, based on earlier experience. The Speaker also requested that the Standing orders of Alþingi be reviewed and expects that a special committee will finish the review before the end of this term.

“Members of Parliament from the same party as the original orator will no longer be allowed to rebut or echo, unless special circumstances allow it, such as if it is clear that the members of parliament are on opposite sides of an issue or that votes will not fall along party lines,” Steingrímur stated in his first address to this parliamentary session.

This will make the form of rebuttals the same as it was in 1991 when Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament was made a unicameral legislature. At the beginning of the 21st century, changes were made to Alþingi’s standing orders, putting time restrictions on each speech in the second round of discussions but no restrictions were put on the number of speeches allowed. This meant that members of Parliament could make several shorter speeches instead of making long speeches and rebuttals could take longer than the original speeches. This will now be limited.

The discussion on the adoption of the EU’s third energy package into Icelandic law took an unprecedented 150 hours, with many meetings in parliament stretching into the wee hours of the morning as members of the Centre Party rebutted one another’s speeches over and over. The filibuster lead to a pile-up of issues, which had to wait to be processed. Speaker Steingrímur rebuked the Centre Party members at one point, saying Alþingi was in a sorry state of affairs and tried to appeal to their reasonableness, sense of responsibility and respect for the basic rules of parliamentary democracy. Centre Party Director Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson has denied that the party’s takeover of the third energy package discussion was a filibuster, claiming that the discussion was topical.

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