After months of endless speculation, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Wednesday called a general election for June 18, even as opinion polls show her centre-left coalition trailing the opposition.
“Denmark is back on track, we are out of the crisis… It's time to ask the Danes if they want to maintain this direction,” said Thorning-Schmidt, who under election regulations had to call a vote to be held by September 14.
Denmark was badly hit by the financial crisis of 2008, which caused the country's property bubble to burst. Since taking office in 2011 Thorning-Schmidt's Social Democratic-led government has overseen a sluggish economic recovery that only recently began gathering pace.
On Tuesday, the government raised its economic growth forecast for 2015 to 1.7 percent from a previous estimate of 1.4 percent, and maintained a two-percent growth estimate for next year.
At the Wednesday press conference announcing the election, the PM listed a litany of other achievements over the past four years including shorter waiting times at hospitals and tougher restrictions on immigrants and refugees.
“In short, Denmark is in better shape today than it was in 2011,” Thorning-Schmidt said.
“Denmark is a fantastic country and it is now that we must stay the course. We do not have time for experiments,” she added.
The election cycle will last just over three weeks before Danes vote on June 18th.
“The election is ready. The time is right. And now it is up to the Danes… I look forward to the next 23 days,” Thorning-Schmidt said.
The PM’s party and its allies have consistently trailed the opposition bloc in the polls, but Thorning-Schmidt has of late pulled away from opposition leader and former PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen when it comes to voters’ perception of trustiworthiness, leading many analysts to predict an ‘American style’ election that focuses heavily on the two leaders.
A poll by news agency Ritzau released on Monday showed the government and its allies in parliament credited with 45.6 percent of voter support, compared to 54.3 percent for the opposition, which includes the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DF).
The 48-year-old Thorning-Schmidt, who is married to British Labour Party MP Stephen Kinnock, has been unpopular with voters for much of her tenure after implementing what many viewed as a right-wing programme.
Some of her more controversial moves have included cutting corporate taxes, rolling back unemployment benefits and selling part of state energy utility Dong to US investment firm Goldman Sachs, which led to the Socialist People's Party leaving the government coalition in protest.
Ahead of the election she has already pledged to spend more on welfare than Rasmussen, head of the right-of-centre Venstre party, which says it wants to improve public services without growing one of the world's most generous welfare states.
Rasmussen was prime minister from 2009 to 2011. He replaced Anders Fogh Rasmussen (no relation) when the latter was appointed secretary general of Nato.
The right-wing bloc would need the support of DF to pass legislation in parliament. Some opinion polls have shown DF which wants to tighten immigration rules and raise public spending, garnering more votes than Venstre.
Support for DF has been bolstered by rising numbers of asylum seekers from Syria — even though they remain relatively low compared to neighbouring Sweden and Germany — and fears that cheap labour from eastern Europe could undermine the Danish model of collective wage bargaining.