Presidential Veto Power Under Scrutiny Amid Election Campaigns Skip to content

Presidential Veto Power Under Scrutiny Amid Election Campaigns

By Ragnar Tómas

Presidential hopefuls discuss the presidency
Photo: Screenshot from Vísir.

During a panel discussion yesterday, former Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir addressed potential conflicts of interest in her capacity as president when it came to signing legislation that she had previously initiated. She emphasised the importance of impartiality in exercising veto powers, particularly when addressing a significant disconnect between the parliament and the public. Presidential candidate Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir has expressed her scepticism regarding Katrín’s claims.

Vetoed legislation submitted to a secret ballot

Presidential candidates Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Halla Tómasdóttir, and Steinunn Ólína Þorsteinsdóttir were guests on Vísir’s panel show Pallborðið yesterday. At the time of recording, Katrín was enjoying 31% support in a recently conducted Gallup poll, while Halla had 4% support compared to Steinunn Ólína’s 1%.

During the panel, Katrín was asked about the potential conflict of interest in signing laws from parliament that she herself had been involved in initiating.

This power to veto legislation is enshrined in Article 26 of Iceland’s Constitution: “If Parliament has passed a bill, it shall be submitted to the President of the Republic for confirmation not later than two weeks after it has been passed. Such confirmation gives it the force of law. If the President rejects a bill, it shall nevertheless become valid but shall, as soon as circumstances permit, be submitted to a vote by secret ballot of all those eligible to vote, for approval or rejection. The law shall become void if rejected, but otherwise retains its force.”

“A divide been parliament and the people”

Katrín responded by stating that all of the candidates running for president had their personal political views but that the president should be objective in her decision to veto legislation and call for a national referendum. Katrín suggested that the appropriate time to use this power was when a “divide had arisen between the people and parliament” (gjá milli þings og þjóðar).

Katrín also noted that given her time in parliament, her political views were part of the public record: “In my case, my actions are completely transparent, and people can judge whether I was solely driven by my own views or if I indeed strived to make decisions in the office of President, or Prime Minister, that served the greater good.”

Katrín concluded by underscoring the expectation of impartiality in her duties, especially concerning the use of veto rights, reflecting the public’s higher expectations of her in these respects, Vísir reports.

“Treason, underway”

This morning, presidential candidate Steinunn Ólína Kristjánsdóttir – a guest during yesterday’s Vísir panel – pushed back against Katrín’s claims of impartiality. In a video posted online, Steinunn addressed an aquaculture bill being debated in Parliament and submitted by Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Bjarkey Olsen (of the Left-Green Movement). The bill has been heavily criticised by the Federation of Icelandic River Owners and the Icelandic Wildlife Fund.

If the bill was approved, Icelanders would give patent holders in marine aquaculture indefinite access and control over “our beautiful Icelandic fjords in the West and East,” Steinunn maintained, adding that Katrín’s conflicting interests would put her in a difficult position in the event she was elected president.

“Regrettably, we are now witnessing what the presidential veto power in Iceland entails, and thus, who occupies the office of the President of Iceland when this bill goes to vote in parliament will matter. If Katrín Jakobsdóttir is then in the office of President of Iceland, the outcome is foreseen. Who would believe that she, as President of Iceland, would reject a bill crafted by her party colleagues during her administration?”

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