Iceland is a representative democracy and a parliamentary republic. The modern parliament, called Alþingi (Althing), was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish king. It was widely seen as a reestablishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period and suspended in 1799. It currently has sixty-three members, each of whom is elected every four years.
The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat, figurehead and head of state, but who can also block a law voted by the parliament and put it to a national referendum. The head of government is the prime minister, who, together with the cabinet, takes care of the executive part of government.
The cabinet is appointed by the president after general elections to Althing; however, this process is usually conducted by the leaders of the political parties, who decide among themselves after discussions which parties can form the cabinet and how its seats are to be distributed, under the condition that it has a majority support in Althing. Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves in reasonable time does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet himself. This has not happened since the republic was founded in 1944, but in 1942 the regent of the country (Sveinn Björnsson, who had been installed in that position by the Althing in 1941) did appoint a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Sveinn in fact became the country's first president in 1944.
The governments of Iceland have almost always been coalitions with two or more parties involved, due to the fact that no single political party has received a majority of seats in Althing in the republic period. The extent of the political powers possessed by the office of the president is disputed by legal scholars in Iceland; several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers but other provisions and traditions suggest differently. In 1980, Icelanders elected Vigdís Finnbogadóttir as president, the world's first directly elected female head of state. She retired from office in 1996.
Elections for the office of town councils, parliament and presidency are each held every four years. The next elections are scheduled for 2010, 2011 and 2008, respectively.
The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court or Hæstiréttur, justices are appointed for life by the president, and district courts. The constitution protects the judiciary from infringement by the other two branches.
conventional long form: Republic of Iceland
conventional short form: Iceland
local long form: Lydveldid Island
local short form: Island
geographic coordinates: 64 09 N, 21 57 W
time difference: UTC (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
8 regions; Austurland, Hofudhborgarsvaedhi, Nordhurland Eystra, Nordhurland Vestra, Sudhurland, Sudhurnes, Vestfirdhir, Vesturland
1 December 1918 (became a sovereign state under the Danish Crown); 17 June 1944 (from Denmark)
Independence Day, 17 June (1944)
16 June 1944, effective 17 June 1944; amended many times
civil law system based on Danish law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
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