Main Executive and Legislative Bodies
Iceland is a representative democracy with an elected president. The current constitution came into effect on 17th of June 1944, when Iceland achieved its independence from Denmark. The Icelandic system of government is based on the principle of three-way separation of power. According to The Constitution of Iceland, the President of Iceland and Alþingi; Iceland’s parliament, jointly exercise legislative powers. The President of Iceland and other governmental authorities are entrusted with executive power. Judges exercise judicial power.
The President of Iceland is a directly elected office. The president serves as constitutional head of state, elected by a popular vote for a four-year term but the office is non-political. The president exercises his/her power through the ministers. The powers of the president lie in close signing legislation, although mostly symbolic and having the authority to commission the leader of one of the political parties to form a government. In case of failure, the mandate is given to another party leader. All legislation passed by the parliament must be signed by the president before coming into force. At the presidential election of June 2016, a new President of Iceland, Mr Guðni Th. Jóhannesson was elected for his first term in office and in 2020, President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson was reelected.
The name of the Icelandic parliament is Alþingi. It takes its name from the old assembly of the Commonwealth period, which was founded in year 930 and eventually abolished in 1800. The modern parliament dates from 1845, when the old Alþingi was re-established as a consultative body. It gained legislative powers under the constitution of 1874.
The electoral law of 1987 provides for 63 members, who are elected for a period of four years by general, direct, secret ballot; in which all Icelandic citizens aged over 18 have the right to vote. Participation in parliamentary elections was traditionally among the highest in Europe or around 85-90% but reached an all-time low of 79,2% in the parliament elections of 2016. The number of parliamentary seats allotted to each constituency varies, depending in part on the number of inhabitants in each constituency.
The main task of the parliament is legislation making. By adopting a parliamentary resolution, the parliament can declare its position on an issue without passing legislation. Parliamentary questions may be addressed to ministers, who reply orally or in writing. Ministers also report to the parliament on official issues, either on their own initiative or at the request of the assembly.
Governance of the education system is shared between central and local authorities. The Icelandic parliament is legally and politically responsible for the education system and sets the basic objectives and framework, whereas the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for the implementation of the legislation pertaining to all school levels. This includes the tasks of creating curriculum guides for preschools, compulsory and upper secondary schools, issuing regulations and planning educational reforms.
By a mandate from the parliament, executive power is exercised by the government. The cabinet is formed by the political parties following parliamentary elections. The government must have the support, direct or indirect, of the majority in parliament. Icelandic electoral law is based on the principle of proportional representation and since 1944 all governments have been coalition governments.
The Judicial System
The judicial power consists of district courts as courts of the first instance and of the Supreme Court.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman
Linked to the Icelandic Parliament is the post of parliament’s Ombudsman whose role is to monitor the administration of the state as well as the local authorities and safeguard the rights of the citizens vis-à-vis the authorities. The Ombudsman shall take pains to ensure that the principle of equality is observed and that administration is in other respects conducted in conformity with the law and good administrative practice. Citizens who feel they have been unjustly treated by the administrative bodies may contact the Ombudsman to seek reparation for the injustice they feel they have suffered.
The Ombudsman for Children
Under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office is the post of Ombudsman for Children. This is an independent body, established in January 1995. The role of the Ombudsman for Children is to further the wellbeing of children and to look after their interests, rights and needs vis-à-vis the public. The Ombudsman for Children is expected to be a protector of all children up to the age of 18.