President sworn in this weekend in unusual ceremony

29.07.2020 - 12:27
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President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson will start his second term in office on Saturday 1st August, following his election victory this June. He will, however, not be congratulated with the customary handshakes for the first time in the Republic’s history. Only 90 people have been invited to the ceremony this year, while nearly 300 were in attendance four years ago.

The President of the Republic of Iceland is sworn into office on 1st August every four years. This is true for new and incumbent presidents—even those who stood unopposed and without an election. 

The ceremony is by its nature formal and has a set of rules and traditions, but some will change this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.  

There will only be 90 guests on Saturday. They will include former presidents, government ministers, Supreme Court judges, foreign diplomats, and leaders of political parties. The 180 usual invitees who will not be there this time around include permanent secretaries of government ministries, most members of Alþingi, and the heads of government directorates. 

Bryndís Hlöðversdóttir, permanent secretary at the Prime Ministry, told RÚV that restricting the scope of the presidential swearing-in ceremony was a straightforward decision this year, given the situation and the need to adhere to anti-contagion rules. “So it will be smaller than it traditionally would be and the number of invited guests is lower due to contagion prevention measures, so we can maintain courtesy gaps.” 

The ceremony is controlled by the Holders of Presidential Power: the president of the Supreme Court of Iceland, the Prime Minister of Iceland, and the Speaker of Alþingi.  

According to tradition, the President swears his or her word of honour on the constitution and then accepts the formal wish of the Holders of Presidential Power to take on that power for the next four years—sealing the promise with handshakes. This year, there will be no handshakes. 

“That was one of the things that was decided right away and is part of the contagion prevention measures, so so when we knew we had to orientate the ceremony in their accordance, that was one of the things decided; though it has not been decided what will happen instead,” Bryndís says. 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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