Althing

Last updated
Icelandic Parliament

Alþingi Íslendinga
Althingi.svg
Type
Type
Leadership
Structure
Seats63
New Iceland Althingi Nov2018.svg
Political groups
Coalition government (35)

Opposition parties (28)

Elections
Party-list proportional representation
Last election
28 October 2017
Meeting place
Althingi 2012-07.JPG
Alþingishúsið
Austurvöllur
150 Reykjavík
Iceland
Website
www.althingi.is
Coat of arms of Iceland.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Iceland
Constitution

The Alþingi (parliament (Icelandic) and anglicised as Althingi or Althing) is the national parliament of Iceland. It is the oldest surviving parliament in the world [1] [2] , a claim shared by Tynwald. [3] The Althing was founded in 930 at Þingvellir ("thing fields"), situated approximately 45 kilometres (28 mi) east of what later became the country's capital, Reykjavík. Even after Iceland's union with Norway in 1262, the Althing still held its sessions at Þingvellir until 1800, when it was discontinued for 45 years. It was restored in 1844 and moved to Reykjavík, where it has resided ever since. [4] The present parliament building, the Alþingishús , was built in 1881, made of hewn Icelandic stone. [5]

Icelandic language North Germanic language mainly spoken in Iceland

Icelandic is a North Germanic language spoken in Iceland. Along with Faroese, Norn, and Western Norwegian it formerly constituted West Nordic; while Danish, Eastern Norwegian and Swedish constituted East Nordic. Modern Norwegian Bokmål is influenced by both groups, leading the Nordic languages to be divided into mainland Scandinavian languages and Insular Nordic. Historically, it was the westernmost of the Indo-European languages until the Portuguese settlement in the Azores.

Parliament legislature whose power and function are similar to those dictated by the Westminster system of the United Kingdom

In modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: representing the electorate, making laws, and overseeing the government via hearings and inquiries.

Tynwald legislature of the Isle of Man

Tynwald, or more formally, the High Court of Tynwald or Tynwald Court, is the legislature of the Isle of Man. It claims to be the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world. It consists of two chambers, known as the branches of Tynwald: the directly elected House of Keys and the indirectly chosen Legislative Council. When the two chambers meet together once a month, they become Tynwald Court.

Contents

The unicameral parliament has 63 members, and is elected every four years based on party-list proportional representation. [6]

In government, unicameralism is the practice of having one legislative or parliamentary chamber. Thus, a unicameral parliament or unicameral legislature is a legislature which consists of one chamber or house.

Party-list proportional representation family of voting systems

Party-list proportional representation systems are a family of voting systems emphasizing proportional representation (PR) in elections in which multiple candidates are elected through allocations to an electoral list. They can also be used as part of mixed additional member systems.

The constitution of Iceland provides for six electoral constituencies with the possibility of an increase to seven. The constituency boundaries and the number of seats allocated to each constituency are fixed by legislation. No constituency can be represented by fewer than six seats. Furthermore, each party with more than 5% of the national vote is allocated seats based on its proportion of the national vote in order that the number of members in parliament for each political party should be more or less proportional to its overall electoral support. If the number of voters represented by each member of Alþingi in one constituency would be less than half of the comparable ratio in another constituency, the Icelandic National Electoral Commission is tasked with altering the allocation of seats to reduce that difference. [7]

Constitution of Iceland National democratic constitution

The Constitution of Iceland is the supreme law of Iceland. It is composed of 80 articles in seven sections, and within it the leadership arrangement of the country is determined and the human rights of its citizens are preserved. The current constitution was first instituted on June 17, 1944; since then, it has been amended seven times.

Constituencies of Iceland

Iceland is divided into 6 constituencies for the purpose of selecting representatives to parliament.

Proportional representation (PR) characterizes electoral systems in which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body. If n% of the electorate support a particular political party, then roughly n% of seats will be won by that party. The essence of such systems is that all votes contribute to the result - not just a plurality, or a bare majority. The most prevalent forms of proportional representation all require the use of multiple-member voting districts, as it is not possible to fill a single seat in a proportional manner. In fact, the implementations of PR that achieve the highest levels of proportionality tend to include districts with large numbers of seats.

The current speaker of the Althing is Steingrímur J. Sigfússon.

Steingrímur J. Sigfússon Icelandic politician

Steingrímur Jóhann Sigfússon is an Icelandic politician. He has been a member of the Althing since 1983 and was the founding chairman of the Left-Green Movement from 1999 until 2013. He was the Minister for Agriculture and Communications from 1988–1991. He became Minister of Finance in 2009. In 2011 he took on the roles of Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture and Minister of Economic Affairs.

Historical background

Foundation

The Alþingi claims to be the longest running parliament in the world. [1] [2] Its establishment, as an outdoor assembly or thing held on the plains of Þingvellir ("Thing Fields") from about the year 930 AD, laid the foundation for an independent national existence in Iceland. To begin with, the Althing was a general assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth, where the country's most powerful leaders ( goðar ) met to decide on legislation and dispense justice. All free men could attend the assemblies, which were usually the main social event of the year and drew large crowds of farmers and their families, parties involved in legal disputes, traders, craftsmen, storytellers and travellers. Those attending the assembly lived in temporary camps (búðir) during the session. The centre of the gathering was the Lögberg, or Law Rock, a rocky outcrop on which the Lawspeaker (lögsögumaður) took his seat as the presiding official of the assembly. [8] His responsibilities included reciting aloud the laws in effect at the time. It was his duty to proclaim the procedural law of Althing to those attending the assembly each year. [9]

Thing (assembly) type of governing assembly

A thing was the governing assembly of an early Germanic society, made up of the free people of the community presided over by lawspeakers. The word appears in Old Norse, Old English, and modern Icelandic as þing, in Middle English, Old Saxon, Old Dutch, and Old Frisian as thing, in German as Ding, and in modern Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Faroese, Gutnish, and Norn as ting, all from a reconstructed Proto-Germanic neuter *þingą; the word is the same as the more common English word thing, both having at their heart the basic meaning of "an assemblage, a coming together of parts"—in the one case, an "assembly" or "meeting", in the other, an "entity", "object", or "thing". The meeting-place of a thing was called a "thingstead" or "thingstow".

Þingvellir place in southwestern Iceland

Þingvellir, anglicised as Thingvellir, is a national park in the municipality of Bláskógabyggð in southwestern Iceland, about 40 km northeast of Iceland's capital, Reykjavík. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. To its south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.

Icelandic Commonwealth republic in the North Atlantic Ocean between 930–1262

The Icelandic Commonwealth, Icelandic Free State, or Republic of Iceland was the state existing in Iceland between the establishment of the Alþingi (Althing) in 930 and the pledge of fealty to the Norwegian king with the Old Covenant in 1262. With the probable exception of Papar, Iceland was an uninhabited island until around 870.

19th-century rendering of the Law Rock in Thingvellir. Law speaker.jpg
19th-century rendering of the Law Rock in Þingvellir.

Lögrétta

Public addresses on matters of importance were delivered at the Law Rock and there the assembly was called to order and dissolved. The Lögrétta, the legislative section of the assembly, was its most powerful institution. It comprised the 39 district Chieftains ( goðar ) plus nine additional members and the Lawspeaker. As the legislative section of Althing, the Lögrétta took a stand on legal conflicts, adopted new laws and granted exemptions to existing laws. Althing of old also performed a judicial function and heard legal disputes in addition to the spring assemblies held in each district. After the country had been divided into four quarters around 965 AD, a court of 36 judges (fjórðungsdómur) was established for each of them at Althing. Another court (fimmtardómur) was established early in the 11th century. It served as a supreme court of sorts, and assumed the function of hearing cases left unsettled by the other courts. It comprised 48 judges appointed by the goðar of Lögrétta. [8]

In parliamentary and some semi-presidential systems, a dissolution of parliament is the dispersal of a legislature at the call of an election.

The supreme court is the highest court within the hierarchy of courts in many legal jurisdictions. Other descriptions for such courts include court of last resort, apex court, and highcourt of appeal. Broadly speaking, the decisions of a supreme court are not subject to further review by any other court. Supreme courts typically function primarily as appellate courts, hearing appeals from decisions of lower trial courts, or from intermediate-level appellate courts.

Monarchy until 1800

When the Icelanders submitted to the authority of the Norwegian king under the terms of the "Old Covenant" (Gamli sáttmáli) in 1262, the function of Althing changed. The organization of the commonwealth came to an end and the rule of the country by goðar ceased. Executive power now rested with the king and his officials, the Royal Commissioners (hirðstjórar) and District Commissioners (sýslumenn). As before, the Lögrétta, now comprising 36 members, continued to be its principal institution and shared formal legislative power with the king. Laws adopted by the Lögrétta were subject to royal assent and, conversely, if the king initiated legislation, Althing had to give its consent. The Lawspeaker was replaced by two legal administrators, called lögmenn.

Towards the end of the 14th century, royal succession brought both Norway and Iceland under the control of the Danish monarchy. With the introduction of absolute monarchy in Denmark, the Icelanders relinquished their autonomy to the Crown, including the right to initiate and consent to legislation. After that, the Althing served almost exclusively as a court of law until the year 1800. [8]

High Court: 1800–1845

The Althing was disbanded by royal decree in 1800. A new High Court, established by this same decree and located in Reykjavík, took over the functions of Lögrétta. The three appointed judges first convened in Hólavallarskóli on 10 August 1801. The High Court was to hold regular sessions and function as the court of highest instance in the country. It operated until 1920, when the Supreme Court of Iceland was established. [8]

Consultative assembly: 1845–1874

A royal decree providing for the establishment of a new Althing was issued on 8 March 1843. Elections were held the following year and the assembly finally met on 1 July 1845 in Reykjavík. Some Icelandic nationalists (the Fjölnir group) did not want Reykjavík as the location for the newly established Althing due to the perception that the city was too influenced by Danes. Jón Sigurðsson claimed that the situating of the Althing in Reykjavík would help make the city Icelandic. [10] [8]

It comprised 26 members sitting in a single chamber. One member was elected in each of 20 electoral districts and six "royally nominated Members" were appointed by the king. Suffrage was, following the Danish model, limited to males of substantial means and at least 25 years of age, which to begin with meant only about 5% of the population. A regular session lasted four weeks and could be extended if necessary. During this period, Althing acted merely as a consultative body for the Crown. It examined proposed legislation and individual members could raise questions for discussion. Draft legislation submitted by the government was given two readings, an introductory one and a final one. Proposals which were adopted were called petitions. The new Althing made a number of improvements to legislation and to the administration of the country. [8]

Legislative assembly from 1874

Parliament House, at Austurvollur in Reykjavik, built 1880-1881. Reykjavik althing.jpg
Parliament House, at Austurvöllur in Reykjavík, built 1880–1881.

The Constitution of 1874 granted to the Althing joint legislative power with the Crown in matters of exclusive Icelandic concern. At the same time the National Treasury acquired powers of taxation and financial allocation. The king retained the right to veto legislation and often, on the advice of his ministers, refused to consent to legislation adopted by Althing. The number of members of Althing was increased to 36, 30 of them elected in general elections in eight single-member constituencies and 11 double-member constituencies, the other six appointed by the Crown as before. The Althing was now divided into an upper chamber, known as the Efri deild and a lower chamber, known as the Nedri deild. [11] Six elected members and the six appointed ones sat in the upper chamber, which meant that the latter could prevent legislation from being passed by acting as a bloc. Twenty-four elected representatives sat in the lower chamber. From 1874 until 1915 ad hoc committees were appointed. After 1915 seven standing committees were elected by each of the chambers. Regular sessions of Althing convened every other year. A supplementary session was first held in 1886, and these became more frequent in the 20th century. The Althing met from 1881 in the newly built Parliament House. The Governor-General (landshöfðingi) was the highest representative of the government in Iceland and was responsible to the Advisor for Iceland (Íslandsráðgjafi) in Copenhagen. [8]

Home rule

A constitutional amendment, confirmed on 3 October 1903, granted the Icelanders home rule and parliamentary government. Hannes Hafstein was appointed as the Icelandic minister on 1 February 1904 who was answerable to parliament. The minister had to have the support of the majority of members of Althing; in the case of a vote of no confidence, he would have to step down. Under the constitutional amendment of 1903, the number of members was increased by four, to a total of forty. Elections to the Althing had traditionally been public – voters declared aloud which of the candidates they supported. In 1908 the secret ballot was adopted, with ballot papers on which the names of the candidates were printed. A single election day for the entire country was at the same time made mandatory. When the Constitution was amended in 1915, the royally nominated members of Althing were replaced by six national representatives elected by proportional representation for the entire country. [8]

Personal union

The Act of Union which took effect on 1 December 1918 made Iceland a state in personal union with the king of Denmark. It was set to expire after 25 years, when either state could choose to leave the union. The Althing was granted unrestricted legislative power. In 1920 the number of members of the Althing was increased to 42. Since 1945, the Althing has customarily assembled in the autumn. With the Constitutional Act of 1934 the number of members was increased by seven and the system of national representatives abolished in favour of one providing for eleven seats used to equalize discrepancies between the parties' popular vote and the number of seats they received in the Althing, raising the number of members of the Althing to 49. In 1934, the voting age was also lowered to 21. Further changes in 1942 provided for an additional three members and introduced proportional representation in the double-member constituencies. The constituencies were then 28 in number: 21 single-member constituencies; six double-member constituencies; and Reykjavík, which elected eight members. With the additional eleven equalization seats, the total number of members was thus 52. [8]

Republic

When Denmark was occupied by Germany on 9 April 1940 the union with Iceland was effectively severed. On the following day, the Althing passed two resolutions, investing the Icelandic cabinet with the power of Head of State and declaring that Iceland would accept full responsibility for both foreign policy and coastal surveillance. A year later the Althing adopted a law creating the position of Regent to represent the Crown. This position continued until the Act of Union was repealed, and the Republic of Iceland established, at a session of the Althing held at Þingvellir on 17 June 1944.

In 1959 the system of electoral districts was changed completely. The country was divided into eight constituencies with proportional representation in each, in addition to the previous eleven equalization seats. The total number of members elected was 60. In 1968, the Althing approved the lowering of the voting age to 20 years. A further amendment to the Constitution in 1984 increased the number of members to 63 and reduced the voting age to 18 years. By a constitutional amendment of June 1999, implemented in May 2003, the constituency system was again changed. The number of constituencies was cut from eight to six; constituency boundaries were to be fixed by law. Further major changes were introduced in the Althing in May 1991: the assembly now sits as a unicameral legislature. There are currently twelve standing committees. [8]

Recent elections

While elections may be held every four years, they can be held more frequently due to extenuating circumstances.

Latest elections

New Iceland Althingi 2017.svg

PartyVotes%Seats+/–
Independence Party D49,54325.216–5
Left-Green Movement V33,15516.911+1
Social Democratic Alliance S23,65212.17+4
Centre Party M21,33510.97New
Progressive Party B21,01610.780
Pirate Party P18,0519.26–4
People's Party F13,5026.94+4
Reform Party C13,1226.74–3
Bright Future A2,3941.20–4
People's Front of Iceland R3750.200
Dawn T1010.100
Invalid/blank votes5,531
Total201,777100630
Registered voters/turnout248,50281.2
Source: Morgunblaðið (Icelandic) Iceland Monitor (English)
Popular vote
D
25.25%
V
16.89%
S
12.05%
M
10.87%
B
10.71%
P
9.20%
F
6.88%
C
6.69%
A
1.22%
Others
0.24%
Parliamentary seats
D
25.40%
V
17.46%
B
12.70%
S
11.11%
M
11.11%
P
9.52%
F
6.63%
C
6.63%

Members (1980s–present)

See also

Notes

  1. 1 2 "A short history of Alþingi - the oldest parliament in the world". europa.eu. The European Union. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  2. 1 2 Meredith, Sam (28 October 2016). "World's oldest parliament poised for radical Pirates to takeover". CNBC. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  3. The High Court of Tynwald, The High Court of Tynwald (www.tynwald.org.im), retrieved 14 November 2011
  4. Sigurðardóttir, Heiða María; Emilsson, Páll Emil. "Hvenær var Alþingi stofnað?". visindavefur.is. Vísindavefurinn. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  5. "ALÞINGISHÚSIÐ - ÁGRIP AF BYGGINGARSÖGU ÞESS". Morgunblaðið. 24 April 1949. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  6. Álvarez-Rivera, Manuel. "Election Resources on the Internet: Elections to the Icelandic Althing (Parliament)". electionresources.org. Election Resources. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  7. "Stjórnarskipunarlög um breytingu á stjórnarskrá lýðveldisins Íslands, nr. 33/1944, með síðari breytingum". althingi.is. Alþingi Íslands. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Alþingi" (PDF). althingi.is. Alþingi. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  9. "Lögberg -the law rock". thingvellir.is. Þjóðgarðurinn á Þingvöllum. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  10. Karlsson, Gunnar (2000). The History of Iceland. p. 206.
  11. Clements' Encyclopedia of World Governments, Volume 8, John Clements Political Research, Incorporated, 1989, page 162

Related Research Articles

Politics of Iceland

The politics of Iceland take place in the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the President is the head of state, while the Prime Minister of Iceland serves as the head of government in a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the parliament, the Althingi. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Storting supreme legislature of Norway

The Storting is the supreme legislature of Norway, established in 1814 by the Constitution of Norway. It is located in Oslo. The unicameral parliament has 169 members, and is elected every four years based on party-list proportional representation in nineteen plurinominal constituencies. A member of the Storting is known in Norwegian as a stortingsrepresentant, literally "Storting representative".

Gray Goose Laws

The Gray (Grey) Goose Laws are a collection of laws from the Icelandic Commonwealth period. The term Grágás was originally used in a medieval source to refer to a collection of Norwegian laws and was probably mistakenly used to describe the existing collection of Icelandic law during the sixteenth century. The Grágás laws in Iceland were presumably in use until 1262–1264 when Iceland was taken over by the Norwegian crown.

2007 Icelandic parliamentary election

Parliamentary elections were held in Iceland on 12 May 2007. The Independence Party remained the largest party in the Althing, winning 25 of the 63 seats.

2003 Icelandic parliamentary election

Parliamentary elections were held in Iceland on 10 May 2003. The Independence Party remained the largest party in the Althing, winning 22 of the 63 seats.

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir 20th and 21st-century Icelandic politician

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is an Icelandic politician and the former Prime Minister of Iceland. She became active in the trade union movement, serving as an officer.

2009 Icelandic parliamentary election election

A parliamentary election was held in Iceland on 25 April 2009 following strong pressure from the public as a result of the Icelandic financial crisis. The Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement, which formed the outgoing coalition government under Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, both made gains and formed an overall majority of seats in the Althing. The Progressive Party also made gains, and the new Citizens' Movement, formed after the January 2009 protests, gained four seats. The big loser was the Independence Party, which had been in power for 18 years until January 2009: it lost a third of its support and nine seats in the Althing.

Róbert Marshall is an Icelandic politician. In April 2009, he was elected as a Member of the Althing for the Reykjavik Constituency South, representing the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin). On 12 October 2012 he decided to leave his party, in order to become a new party member and top list election candidate for the newly founded party Bright Future in Reykjavik Constituency South.

1934 Icelandic parliamentary election

Parliamentary elections were held in Iceland on 24 June 1934. They were the first held after reforms to the electoral system that increased the number of seats in the Lower House from 28 to 33 and ensured that all members of the Althing were elected at the same election. The Independence Party emerged as the largest party in the Lower House, winning 14 of the 33 seats.

2013 Icelandic parliamentary election 2013 parliamentary election in Iceland

An Icelandicparliamentary election was held on 27 April 2013. Fifteen parties contested the election in Iceland, compared to just seven in the previous election. The election was won by the two centre-right opposition parties, the Independence Party and Progressive Party, who subsequently formed a coalition government. The parties are eurosceptic, and their win brought to a halt partially completed negotiations with the European Union regarding Icelandic membership.

Pirate Party (Iceland) political party in Iceland

The Pirate Party is a political party in Iceland. The party's platform is based on pirate politics and direct democracy.

Jón Þór Ólafsson Icelandic Writer and Member of Parliament

Jón Þór Ólafsson is an Icelandic politician.

Salome Þorkelsdóttir, sometimes transliterated as Salome Thorkelsdottir, is a retired Icelandic politician and first woman to be Speaker of the unicameral Althing. Before that she had been Speaker of the Upper House of the Althing. She was of the Independence Party.

Next Icelandic parliamentary election

The next Icelandic parliamentary election to elect members of the Althing will be held no later than 23 October 2021.

Magnús góði Guðmundarson was a medieval chieftain (gothi) of Þingvellir in Iceland. He was the allsherjargoði of the Althing from 1197 to 1234. He inherited the office from his father Guðmundr gríss Ámundason, who was the descendant of Ingólfur Arnarson, one of the first Viking settlers on the island. Magnús was the next-to-last allsherjargoði before the dissolution of the Icelandic Commonwealth in 1262. He had no offspring, and contemporary sources only offer conjectures about his successor, possibly Árni óreiða Magnússon, nephew of Guðmundr gríss Ámundason and son-in-law of the skald Snorri Sturluson. In fact, the sagas narrate that Sturluson caused Magnús's fall: during his first term as lawspeaker, Sturluson convinced the Althing to outlaw (skógarmaðr) Magnús. Despite his title, Magnús was not one of Iceland's more powerful citizens.

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir is an Icelandic politician who is a member of the Althing for the Reykjavík North constituency since 2016 and deputy Chairman of the parliamentary group for the Independence Party. She has also served as the Secretary of the Independence Party since 2015.