by Robert Robertsson
October 21, 2012
Vote is non-binding but backers hope it
will force change
Voters want more control of island's natural resources
Residents of Iceland have voted for their
constitution to be rewritten in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis,
electing to take greater control of natural resources such as fish and
geothermal energy, results of a referendum showed on Sunday.
The collapse of the island's heavily indebted banks led to demands for
change after accusations of cronyism between the political elite and
The referendum is non-binding but backers of change hope that politicians
will find it hard to ignore even though parliament is responsible for
adopting a new constitution and the main opposition party has said it
opposes proposed changes.
Saturday's referendum asked voters six questions, including whether people
wanted a new constitution which has been drawn up by a specially-appointed
panel of 25 citizens to be the basis for a review of the basic law.
With two-thirds of votes counted on Sunday, 66 percent had answered "yes"
to that question.
Turnout was 49 percent of the island's more than
235,000 eligible voters, broadcaster RUV said.
"This is a very clear conclusion for
parliament. The majority of voters want changes in all the topics asked
about in the vote," said Thorolfur Matthiasson, an economist at the
University of Iceland.
He noted 80 percent had voted to declare all
non-privately owned natural resources as "national property".
Fishing accounts for about 7 percent of the economy with fishing rights
currently farmed out under a system of quotas which critics say have
benefited a select few.
Backers of the system say it has led to sound
management of fish stocks.
"There will be pressure to change the
fishing quota system because people want a bigger share of income from
fishing and other natural resources," said Matthiasson.
Control of the island's natural resources
remains a sensitive issue.
Plans by a Chinese tycoon to buy rural land were
blocked by the government last year. He is to lease the land instead. In
2011, a Canadian company also faced protests - led by singer Bjork - and
eventually agreed to reduce its stake in a geothermal power company.
The draft constitution includes provisions to allow 10 percent of voters to
call their own referendums. It also sets a limit on the terms a president
can serve to three from the current unlimited terms.
The draft constitution was drawn up after deliberations by the 25 members of
the council and after about 3,600 comments and 370 suggestions were made to
the council's website.
The council also used Facebook and Twitter to
communicate with the public.