Momentum grows for eight-years-delayed constitution

14.10.2020 - 11:15
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: Kristinn Þeyr Magnússon - RÚV
The question “Where is the new constitution?” was painted on a wall on Skúlagata in Reykjavík, a stone’s throw from most government ministries, this weekend. The unmissable question to politicians and the public alike was promptly removed from the wall on Monday. The government was accused of “pressure washing away the truth”.

Iceland’s current constitution has been the heart of the operation of the Republic of Iceland since 1944 and is an adapted version of the then-Danish constitution, which Copenhagen replaced in 1953. 

A new MMR poll suggests that six in ten Icelanders consider it important for the country to introduce a new constitution during the tenure of the current government. Introducing a new constitution is most important to younger voters, female voters, and those in the capital region, the poll suggests, but support stands at around 50 percent even in more sceptical demographics. 

Over 35,000 people have signed an online petition calling on Alþingi to respect the outcome of the 2012 referendum and introduce the new constitution. The referendum of October 2012 asked whether the recommendations of the constitutional assembly (which was a body elected from among over 500 people who put their names forward) should become the basis for a parliamentary bill for a new constitution. 66.9 percent of voters in the referendum responded yes to that question. 

Removing the large artwork from the wall a day or two after it went up is a description of the government’s attitude to the new constitution, according to the chairperson of the Icelandic Constitutional Society—who added that the swift action to remove the work on Monday caused a jump in the number of people signing the petition. 

The wall in question, on Sjávarútvegshúsið at the Harpa end of Skúlagata, has often been painted with art, with messages, and with graffiti which is seldom taken down. Stundin reported this week that the company that cleaned the wall was working on the orders of Umbra, which is the janitorial service for the government and its ministries. 

The head of Umbra responded that Sjávarútvegshúsið has recently been brought under Umbra’s care and that the agency always works to remove unauthorised artworks and graffiti on government property. 

Píratar (the Pirates) MPs expressed their dismay in Alþingi yesterday, saying the government was trying to “pressure wash the truth away”. A dozen or so young people gathered to paint the same message back up again yesterday at Sjávarútvegshúsið--except this time on a fence (pictured above) instead of a wall. Among them was Narfi Þorsteinsson, the brain behind the original sign this weekend. 

Jón Þór Ólafsson, Píratar MP, said in Alþingi yesterday: “It is symbolic that when the government can no longer get away with sweeping the new constitution under the carpet, they literally pressure wash away the truth about their disregard for the will of the people. A wall that has stood undisturbed for years, covered in graffiti, is suddenly a top government priority. The authorities didn’t waste a single second in cleaning that wall. It only took one innocent question: ‘Where is the new constitution?’.” 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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