On April 27th, Icelanders will go to the polls to vote for a new parliament, which will in turn likely lead to the formation of different coalition government further to the right. Based on past history, about 85% of the electorate will turn out. I myself will be going, albeit indirectly. :) And I find it really fascinating to actually for once have serious choices on who to vote for in an election.
But wait, what's that? The much-heralded "new constitution" is dead yet again? Leading candidates for the Pirate Party writing blogs about how women belong in the home and global warming is an anti-business conspiracy? What issues are in play here?
Join me below the fold!
Q: So, like, how does your electoral system work?
A: Like many countries, we have a separate head of state and head of government. The president (forseti), the head of state, is directly elected. He wields proportionally little power, and his main role is diplomacy, although he has "reserve powers" - the most famous being the rarely-used ability to "veto" a bill by means of sending it to a public vote, which was used twice during the Icesave banking dispute. The prime minister (forsætisráðherra) is the head of the executive branch. The executive branch is negotiated in the process of forming a coalition between parliamentarians (alþingismenn). The parliament is elected via lists - you cast your vote for the party list in your precinct. If they get enough votes for one seat, the top of the list is elected. If they get enough for two seats, the next on the list is also elected, and so on down the line.
This has a number of perhaps unexpected benefits, which I'd like to go into. But first, the obvious: it means you have a lot more choice. You're not throwing your vote away to vote for even a tiny minority party because it's not unrealistic for them to take at least one seat. And if they're popular enough to take one seat, then hey, they might take two. Or three, or four... etc. So people really can vote their conscience.
And as a result, parties proliferate. One could vote, for example, for Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (the right-wing Independence Party), Framsóknarflokkurinn (the center-right Progress Party), Hægri grænir (the Right Greens),Vinstri grænir (the Left Greens), Samfylkingin (the center-left Social Democrats), Björt framtíð (Bright Future, a new left party), Dögun (Dawn, another new left party), Lýðræðisvaktin (Democracy Watch, another new left party), Píratapartýið (the Pirate Party), etc. And each one has a different set of policies instead of categorizing each group into merely left or right. For example, fylkingin and the Left Greens split over the issue of the EU. You'll notice as is generally the case the world over, the left is a lot more diverse than the right. ;)
A side effect of all of this diversity is that you have to inform yourself better. That's a lot of parties to learn their view on, and you can vote for any of them. And even more than that, because you're voting for a list, it's not just the parties' views that matter, but the specific candidates. At the very least you need to learn the views of the top of the list. And probably the next seat. And if it's a major party, you might want to go a good ways down.
It also encourages direct participation. Fed up with all of these parties? Form your own; the barrier to take a seat isn't high. Generally support the views of one party but want to personally have an effect? Get on the party list. Someone who's not been deeply involved isn't exactly going to jump onto the first seat, but it's not a super-high barrier to get lower down on the list. And you never know, swings happen so much with such a diverse array of parties and such an active electorate that you might actually win.
Q: So what's going to happen?
A: So what's going to be the outcome of the election? Well first I'll tell you what's not going to be the outcome, and that's a new constitution. Contrary to the awful widespread blog "coverage", Iceland did not pass the new constitution bill. It's come up and been killed over and over. It looked like there was hope in recent months, as a non-binding referrendum showed extremely overwhelming support for passing it. But it must be passed in multiple parliaments, and the right managed to use a parliamentary maneuver to amend it at the last minute, preventing there from being time to pass it. And since it must be passed by two assemblies in a row, we're back at square one. There's no possibility for it to be ratified in the new parliament. It probably won't even get a first vote, because the new parliament is very likely to be center-right. The Progress Party is leading in the polls, followed by the Independence Party.
Q: Pretty disappointing, then?
A: Yup, Plus,a strange, and personally disappointing curiosity, is that of the new Pirate Party (which, unrelated, is a bit of wordplay - Píratapartýið not only doesn't use the Icelandic word for pirate, but uses the word for party as in "to party" as opposed to "a political party"). In general, one thinks of Pirate Parties as a "left-wing nerd party". I had a lot of hope for the party early on, attended the meetings, voluteerered, etc. But I kept getting a general sense that for some reason or another, it was becoming a magnet for the worst aspect of "nerddom", in particular, a troubling anti-woman sentiment. Not that this describes everyone - most definitely not. In fact, their current parliamentarian is a woman, the famous Birgitta Jónsdóttir. But one thing after another gave me a solid sense that while the party as a whole wasn't necessarily anti-equal rights, equal rights was something like #386 on the list of priorities,and if it even inconvenienced some other party issue, it would be the first thing to go. And that for some reason, a lot of closet (or not so closet) misogynists were attracted to it (my boyfriend thinks it might be because they have no home in any of the traditional parties, and so a new, sort of mildly-anarchist party may have appeal to them)
It started when people started reading the blog histories of Pirate candidates after they rocketted from being unknowns to taking nearly 10% of the electorate, according to polls. First one of the candidates linked feminist Hildur Lillendahs' blog (where she collects (without comment) nasty misogynistic writings in Icelandic from around the net, in order to show their prevalence) "Wow, Hildur Lilliendahl is fucking sick in the head, I've been looking at several of these comments on the site and most of them are just pointing out that these hyperfeminist whores are idiots..." then continues to compare her to the KKK, followed by a "no, the KKK is better" remark, then hopes that his comment ends up on the site, and finally calls her an stupid old hag and a stupid hyperfeminist cunt.
Okay... okay, that was bad, he was a ways down the list, right? But then a different candidate, this time the top of one precinct list, was found to have written a blog entry years ago calling the struggle for equal rights for women an attempt to soften men and turn them into slaves and blaming a supposed (but actually nonexistant) increase in violence among youth on the increase of women in the workplace, arguing that more women need to stay in the home while men work.
Then the other Reykjavík precinct captain was found to have written an article about how Global Warming is a conspiracy of scientists who hate corporations and are just trying to make money.
And it just keeps going.
So yes, all of that has been personally disappointing to me. I kind of prefer my pirates to be of a variety that doesn't think scientists are part of a big conspiracy and that women belong in the home.
Q: Ugh. So what exactly are the issues people are voting on?
A: Well, there's been a really popular "Alþingispróf" (Parliament Quiz) on DV.is which something like 40.000 people have taken so far (Iceland has 320.000 people total), so you can get a pretty good sense of what Icelandic politics is like and where the center is from the sort of questions that they ask. Ever wonder what sort of issues are at play in a more leftist country? I'll conclude this diary with a translation of the quiz for you. :) I'm omitting translations of the answer choices that are basically just "agree", "disagree", "strongly agree", etc. To map financial figures into US equivalents, simply multiply by a thousand (the US has about a thousand times as many people).
1. How supportive or opposed are you to the following statement: Additional heavy industry is beneficial for the Icelandic community.
2. How supportive or opposed are you því that an aluminum smelter be built in Helguvík on Reykjanes?
3. Are you supportive or opposed to increasing the requirements on industry concerning polution protection at their expense?
4. Are you supportive or opposed to the concept of three power plants being built on the lower portion of the Þjórsá (river)?
5. Which of the following possibilities best describes your views toward membership discussions with the EU?
o Iceland should keep going with the discussions and take a decision on the agreement which gets offered
o Iceland should stop the discussions
o Neither describes my views
o Don't know
o Don't want to answer
6. Which of the following options best describes your views towards membership of Iceland in the EU?
o The interests of Iceland are best served outside the EU
o The interests of Iceland are best served inside the EU
o Don't know
o Don't want to answer
7. What currency should Iceland use in the future?
o The Icelandic króna
o The euro, with EU membership
o The euro, without EU membership
o The Norwegian króna
o The US dollar
o The Canadian dollar
o Another currency
o Don't know
o Don't want to answer
8. How supportive or opposed are you to Iceland continuing to be part of NATO?
NATO is a military association of western states which Iceland has been a member of since it was established in 1949.
9. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: Icelanders should grant more political refugees asylum.
10. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: We should maintain the current tarrif on imported goods.
The Icelandic Farmers' Association and miscellaneous politicians insist that we continue taxing imported goods notwithstanding that Iceland becomes part of the EU. Such tarrifs protect Icelandic production but cause higher prices on goods.
11. How supportive or opposed are you to loosening regulations to simplify foreign citizens moving to Iceland?
12. How supportive or opposed are you to allowing foreigners to buy land in Iceland?
13. Are you supportive or opposed to having Icelandic language knowledge as a requirement for granting citizenship?
14. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: Immigrants of the girst generation can never completely acculturalize in the Icelandic community?
15. The Icelandic government pays sheep producers approximately $38 million per year (per-capita, $118/yr). Which of the following options best describes your views toward this support?
Support for sheep ranchers only, in accordance with the 2013 budget: 38 million dollars.
16. Which of the following options describes your views towards income tax in Iceland?
The tax rate in Iceland is 37,32% of income from 0 to $23.2k/yr, 40,22% of income from $23.2k to $71k/yr and 46,22% of income over $71k/kr.
17. How supportive or opposed are you to state-owned colleges requiring tuition?
Tuition for University of Iceland students today is $480 per year. The state provides approximately $80 million per year (per-capita, $667/yr).
18. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: There should be higher income tax, but when it is done it should be on those with the highest incomes.
19. Which of the following options best describes your views about gasoline taxes?
The Icelandic government taxes approximately $3.78 per gallon.
20. How supportive or opposed are you to the government paying artists' salaries?
The Icelandic government pays salaries for several hundred artists per year. The cost is approximately $4 million this year (per-capita, $33.70), in accordance with the budget.
21. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: It's natural to use a portion of federal taxes to prevent rural population decline.
The goal of the rural office is to work at improving towns and employment opportunities in rural areas. The department gets $2,9 million (per capita, $9.14) according to the 2013 budget.
22. How supportive or opposed are you to allowing the sale of alcohol in grocery stores?
23. How supportive or opposed are you to the government continuing to support radio and television with taxes?
24. How supportive or opposed are you to the passage of the so-called "Key Bill"?
The so-called "Key Bill" allows borrowers to return real estate to their creditors without the creditors being able to economically pursue the borrowers.
25. Are you supportive or opposed to the legal separation of investment banks and commercial banks?
The separation of commercial banks and investment banks has been discussed such that the former may neither buy or sell stock in other companies, nor have nor run investment funds.
26. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: It's natural that the government support art and culture which cannot economically support itself.
Many museums and cultural establishments such as the National Theatre, the Icelandic Dance Association, and the Icelandic Symphony are financial losses.
27. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: We should abolish the risk fee (several percent additional interest) on consumer loans indexed to the Icelandic króna.
28. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: It's realistic to get involved in the general paying down of the debts of individuals.
29. The base financial support for students according to LÍN is $13.5k/year. Which of the following options best describes your views towards this support?
Support for students in rental or private housing is called base support. A student in parental housing or rent-free housing gets 50% of base support. If a student is supporting a child/children under 19 years of age then that is taken into consideration.
30. Which of the following options best describes your views toward the amount of disability benefits?
The lower limit of an unwed parrent with one child was $19,488 last year, for example.
31. Which of the following options best describes your views towards the amount of unemployment benefits?
Base unemployment benefits are $16,570 per year (assuming 100% claimant rights).
32. Which of the following describes your views towards court judgements on sexual assault cases in recent years?
33. Are you supportive or opposed to the names and addresses of convicted pedophiles being made public to the community?
34. Are you supportive or opposed to the legalization of marijuana?
35. Are you supportive or opposed to prohibiting the sale of tobacco in Iceland?
36. How supportive or opposed are you the current fishing quota system (the private ownership of fishing rights, generally by large companies, which is blamed for the decline of small fishing towns)?
37. How in agreement or disagrement are you to the following definition of national resources: National resources are considered to be marine stocks and other natural resources of the ocean and sea bottom in Icelandic waters outside of net range, water and other natural resources which people are traditionally accustomed to being private rights, such as water power, geothermal heat, and minerals on national lands.
This is the definition of natural resources which is found in the constitution bill which the constitutional and oversight committee passed this term as a base recommendation for the constitutional council. There has been argument over the definition of the concept.
38. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: Usage rights for natural resources should be long-term to ensure the profitability of the companies that use them.
In the bill for the new constitution which was put forth this term was written that natural resources which are not in private ownership shall be the permanent property of the government. Quota owners and holders of exploitation rights of resources want the contract terms for exploitation rights to be long to ensure profitability.
39. How many years should be the limit for usage rights of geothermal heat?
40. Are you supportive or opposed to limited small boat sea fishing without the need for a permit?
Accordant with such concepts those who do limited small boat sea fishing don't need to have a permit.
41. Are you supportive or opposed to parliament regarding the conclusion of the constitutional committee as binding?
The bill of the constitutional committee for the constitution is only advice but parliament managed to get the bill to consideration during this term.
42. Are you supportive or opposed to direct election of parlimentarians?
43. How supportive or opposed are you to the whole country being one precinct?
Accordant with current the current precinct layout, the country is divided into six precincts. Candidates run in a specific precinct. This has led to unequal voting strength between different precincts.
44. How supportive or opposed are you to the right of the public to information which concerns the public interest being enshrined in the constitution?
45. How supportive or opposed are you to cabinet members having a seat in parliament?
Accordant with the current setup,cabinet members are also parlimentarians. Changes would be brought about for clearer separation between the executive and judicial branches.
46. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: People should be able to pay specifically for access to better healthcare.
47. How important do you consider the inclusion of psychologists in the national healthcare system?
Today, psychologists are not part of the national healthcare system in contrast with e.g. doctors.
48. How important do you consider the inclusion of dentists in the national healthcare system?
Today, dentists are not part of the national healthcare system in contrast with e.g. doctors.
49. How supportive or opposed are you to the inclusion of private for-profit parties in the healthcare system?
50. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: Icelanders live with equal rights whereas womena nd men live with equal status and opportunities.
51. How supportive or opposed are you to allowing surrogacy in Iceland?
A surrogate receives in vitro fertilisation whereas the fetus is genetically not her own. The egg and sperm being from the future parents of the child is the most common form of surrogacy. (stadganga.is)
52. How supportive or opposed are you the sale of prostitution in Iceland?
According to current law it is prohibited to buy the services of a prostitute but permitted to sell one's self, so long as no third party has an interest in the business. Thus the punishment falls on the buyer.
53. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: Aid in other countries should preferably come from support with taxes rather than fundraising campaign funds.
54. Which of the following options best describes your views towards the Reykjavík airport best?
o The airport should continue being in Vatnsmýri
o A new airport should be built in a Reykjavík neighborhood
o Domestic flights to Reykjavík should go through the Keflavík International Airport
o Don't know
o Don't want to answer
55. How supportive or opposed are you to tolls on major roads to finance their creation?
Changing the income method in transportation affairs such that usage fees can be instead of gasoline and oil taxes. Usage fees would be required at turnpikes on major roads, for example the area of the capitol region.
56. How important do you think it is that the Vaðlaheiði Tunnel be built?
The Vaðlaheiði Tunnel should improve the connection between Eyjafjarðar og Fnjóskadals as Víkurskarð is certainly a hurdle to cross in the winter. The expected cost is approximately $80 million dollars (per-capita, $250)
57. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: It's justifiable to do experiments on animals if it is in the interests of progress of medical science.
58. Do you consider it more important to keep a check on inflation or unemployment?
59. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: The freer the market is, the freer people are.
60. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: Businessmen and producers are more important to the community than authors and artists.
61. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: Nobody decides where they're born so it's absurd to be proud of one's homeland.
62. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: When people rise up, what matters is class rather than nation.
63. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: Good parents need to sometimes spank their children.
64. How supportive or opposed are you that Iceland have a national church?
Accordant to the constitution, the Icelandic Lutheran Church is the national church of Iceland. Accordant to the budget this works out to state funding of $11 million per year (per-capita, $35).
65. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: It is important that religious studies are taught in elementary/middle school?
66. How much are you in agreement or disagreement with the following statement: School prayer should not be permitted in primary schools.
If you're curious enough to take the test yourself and compare your views to how mainstream Icelandic parties stand, you can take it here. To help with the answer keys:
Hlynnt(ur): Supportive (lit: warm)
Alls ekki: Absolutely not
Sammála: In agreement
Ósammála: In disagreement
Hvorki né: Neither
Alltof: Far too much
Of: Too much
Háar, háir, há: High
Lágar, lágir, lág: Low
Veit ekki: Don't know
Vil ekki svara: Don't want to answer
Spurningin er mér mikilvæg: The question is important to me