Voters in Iceland back new constitution, more natural resource control

Source: Reuters

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 business.

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.

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