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Chairs, seats, and a speaker

01.12.2021 - 15:51
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: RUV
Birgir Ármannsson (pictured above), MP for Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (the Independence Party), was today voted Speaker of Alþingi. His appointment was supported by 48 of his fellow Members. 11 abstained in the vote, and four were not present. Líneik Anna Sævarsdóttir, Inga Sæland, Diljá Mist Einarsdóttir, Björn Leví Gunnarsson, and Jódís Skúladóttir are deputy speakers.

In his first speech as Speaker, Birgir said Alþingi has not seen a situation like this since the middle of last century—with nine weeks since the election and an opening session of parliament that dragged on for more than a week—and that now there is much to do before the end of the year. The most important, he said, is to debate and pass the 2022 budget bill, submitted by the finance minister yesterday.

MPs have also today voted in the standing committees for the coming term. Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir (Vinstri grænir/Left Greens) will chair the budget committee, taking over from Willum Þór Þórsson, who is now health minister. 

Stefán Vagn Stefánsson (Framsóknarflokkurinn/Progressive Party) will chair the industrial affairs committee. Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn/Independence Party) will chair the economic and trade committee for the next 18 months; until she takes over as interior minister. 

Þórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir (Samfylkingin/Social Democrats) is the only committee chair from an opposition party, and will head up the constitutional and oversight committee. 

Vilhjálmur Árnason (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) chairs the environmental and transport committee, Bjarni Jónsson (Vinstri grænir) is chair of the foreign affairs committee, and Líneik Anna Sævarsdóttir (Framsóknarflokkurinn) is the new chair of the welfare committee. 

Shaky start 

Alþingi is unusual as a national parliament in that its seating plan is drawn in a lottery and not along party lines. The idea of mixing members up is to boost cooperation and conversation across party lines and the system has proven mostly popular.  

Overseeing the draw of who will sit next to whom is one of the very first jobs of a new Speaker, but all did not go according to plan today. 

First, Birgir Ármannsson drew seats for party leaders who are not ministers. This went according to plan. 

Next, he drew seats for each party’s parliamentary leaders, and that is where the confusion began. Birgir realised he had drawn a ball from the wrong box and needed to start over. 

After this, the draw for all other members took place, but after seven had been allocated their seats, the draw had to stop again. Birgir Þórarinsson, an MP for Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn, was allocated the same seat as Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, the leader of Viðreisn (the Reform Party). This was clearly not right. While the seating arrangements are supposed to foster closeness across party lines, they stop short of forcing members with differing political views to share chairs. 

Birgir called a short recess to sort out the teething problem. 

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Alexander Elliott
Fréttastofa RÚV