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President’s Job “Poorly-Defined”

The role of President of Iceland is poorly-defined in the constitution of the Republic, according to two prominent academics.

Professor of history, Ragnheiður Kristjánsdóttir, and adjunct professor of political sciences, Birgir Hermansson, both of the University of Iceland, made their comments at a seminar this week. Ragnheiður says the problem is very visible in the different candidates’ attitudes and their speeches ahead of next month’s presidential election.

The unclear position of the role has its roots in the very different ideas among powerful Icelanders during the formation of the Republic about what a president should be, RÚV reports.

Back then, some people looked towards the USA in their calls for Iceland to have a powerful president, while others wanted a president without political power—a head of state who would primarily be a figurehead and guardian of the nation’s will. Some people wanted the president to be appointed by the Alþingi parliament, while others wanted him/her to be directly elected.

The eventual result was that people went out of their way to avoid conflict and show Icelandic unity to the world at the dawn of the new Republic of Iceland.

The precise definition of what it means to be President of Iceland was therefore put to one side, with the promise of greater discussion later on. That official discussion never really took place, however.

Birgir Hermansson added that each president since then has in some way shaped their own interpretation of how they and their public see the presidency at any given moment.

No president before the incumbent Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has ever taken a more active political role and the various candidates to replace him all have different visions for what a president should and should not be. Birgir warns the public to be realistic and to realize that there are things a president can do, and other things that are not allowed under the constitution. Even a politically-active Icelandic head of state has only limited political power.

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