Iceland - Political background

Iceland boasts of having the world's oldest democratic body. The Parliament, or Althing, was originally established in 930 AD . From the fourteenth century until it declared its independence on 17 June 1944, Iceland was under Danish control.

Iceland has a parliamentary form of government. The Althing is a bicameral Parliament with 63 members; 49 are chosen proportionally from eight districts, and the remainder are selected to make the total number of representatives proportional to the national vote totals for each party. Parliamentary elections are held every four years; the most recent election was held in May 1999. De facto executive power is held by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president from the majority party or coalition of parties. Five different parties held seats in the Althing after the 1999 election.

The prime minister wields effective executive power in Iceland. Iceland also has a president, whose power is largely ceremonial. In addition to appointing the prime minister, the president also has the power to dissolve the Althing. While the prime minister exercises most executive power and serves as head of government, the president is the formal head of state. The presidential term lasts four years; the parliamentary elections are held every five years. As of 2002, the president was Olaf Ragnar Girmsson who succeeded Vigdis Finnbogadottir in 1996. When Finnbogadottir was first elected in 1980, she became the first democratically elected female head of state in the world. David Oddsson first became prime minister in a coalition government in 1991, and retained the position after parliamentary elections in 1995 and 1999.

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