Arbitrary Power of the Majority

   Jul 9, 2024     2 min read

One of the main things I have learned in the 7 years I have been in parliament is that elected representatives generally do not know the job they are supposed to do. They do not know the difference between public and political power.

Maybe it’s because we still have a royal constitution, which states that “Iceland is a republic with a parliamentary government” but also that “the Althingi and the President of Iceland jointly exercise legislative power. The President and other authorities as provided for in this Constitution and other laws exercise executive power.”

How this power is exercised is what matters. According to the constitution, the President is irresponsible, and ministers are made responsible in his place. How this responsibility for executive power works is further defined by law. How legislative power is exercised is more interesting, as the constitution states that “Members of parliament are bound only by their own convictions and not by any instructions from their constituents.”

So what is it that elected representatives seem not to understand? It is the difference between a minister’s power according to law and political power. Ministers cannot make arbitrary royal decisions. Their political choice is which legal path to take in each case, and ministers bear political responsibility for that choice. When ministers choose a path that is not legal, they must bear ministerial responsibility according to the law.

For example, it is gross negligence if a minister does not check their eligibility to make decisions. This should be at the top of every checklist when a minister is choosing among the legal options available at any given time.

Such requirements are not made of parliamentarians. The only thing parliamentarians need to be aware of is not to vote on matters that give them a personal benefit over others. Otherwise, parliamentarians follow only their own convictions when voting in parliament. They do not need to be experts in anything other than their own convictions.

However, the parliament and the use of power work differently. A majority of parliamentarians come together and effectively monopolize legislative power. Not a single minority bill even reached a vote in the parliamentary chamber. Parliamentarians were not allowed to express their convictions on 153 minority bills, while 121 out of 148 government bills went to a vote, and additionally, 13 committee bills were approved. Meetings were canceled in committees rather than addressing minority bills. The majority has grossly violated the rules of procedure in this parliament by virtue of its majority power – by virtue of arbitrary royal power, to put it as plainly as possible.

Certainly, in a democracy, the majority rules. But for that, at the very least, there needs to be a vote on the issues!