Danish youngsters to vote in ‘school general elections’

Thousands of teenagers across the country are preparing to cast their votes after Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen called the 2019 School Election.

Danish youngsters to vote in 'school general elections'
Teenagers from the Samsøgade school in Aarhus vote in the 2015 School Election. File photo: Jens Thaysen/Ritzau Scanpix

In the poll, which does not have any bearing on the real general election, students in the 8th, 9th and 10th grades will cast their ballots for who they think should lead Denmark.

Speaker of the Danish parliament Pia Kjærsgaard said she was looking forward to the project.

“Too many young people think they are unable to make a contribution. But it is young people in particular who can make a contribution, because they will lead society in future,” Kjærsgaard, who will officially start the election at one of the schools registered to take part, said.

Kasper Sand Kjær, chairperson of Dansk Ungdoms Fællesråd (Council for Danish Youth), the organiser of the School Election, said that the project will help young people to engage in politics by giving them a chance to experience it as something tangible and active.

“The School Elections strengthen democratic education. Specifically, this is about showing school students that politics is something you can participate in and not just something you are a spectator to,” Kjær said.

That assessment was supported by Kasper Møller Hansen, professor and researcher of elections at the University of Copenhagen.

Hansen said he was impressed by the close resemblance of the youth elections to the real thing.

Giving young people the experience of entering a voting booth before they reach the age of 18 helps promote confidence and political understanding, he said.

“It demystifies (elections) and shows that they aren’t so difficult. You don’t need specific opinions, a certain level of knowledge or to be good at politics classes to be able to vote. No, we can all vote, and we have a duty to do so,” Hansen said.

Not all schools have registered to take part in the youth elections and that could result in a skewed outcome, the researcher added.

“There may be a slightly incorrect picture of how Denmark’s youth is made up if you simply take an average, because the schools which are struggling the most tend to be the ones which are unable to take part,” he said.

The School Elections will take place on January 31st, with a party at Christiansborg, the seat of Denmark’s parliament, to take place after the result has been revealed.

READ ALSO: Denmark's elections are the ‘best in the world': report


Power shifts in Denmark with the giving of gifts

Transfer of power between governments can be associated with antagonism, ill feeling and tension. In Denmark, it is accompanied by the exchange of gifts.

Power shifts in Denmark with the giving of gifts
Mette Frederiksen hands Lars Løkke Rasmussen his new cycling jersey. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix

The quirky tradition was continued on Thursday as Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen took over from predecessor Lars Løkke Rasmussen as head of government.

Tradition in Danish politics dictates that all outgoing ministers, including the prime minister, exchange gifts with their successors on the day portfolios officially change hands.

The gifts, often referred to in Danish as drillegaver (‘teasing gifts’), are normally chosen with an element of humour in mind, while not forgetting to reference political opposition.

As the keys to the PM’s office were exchanged at Christiansborg Palace, the seat of parliament on Thursday, Rasmussen handed Frederiksen a pair of gloves and blue trousers from a set of overalls.

“I’m now handing over a Denmark in top form. And that must be looked after. I know will you do that, Mette,” Rasmussen said.

“One of the keys to achieving that is for us Danes to pull on our working gear,” he added.

In response, Frederiksen gifted Rasmussen, known for his enthusiasm for bicycle racing, a polka-dotted cycling jersey, making reference to his tendency to “break away from the pack” during the election campaign.

“I hope you will be spending a lot more time cycling in future,” Frederiksen joked as she gave her predecessor the jersey.

Also noting that she had probably not seen the last of the Liberal (Venstre) party leader in politics, the new PM had warm words of tribute for Rasmussen, who has served two separate terms as the head of Denmark’s government, from 2009-11 and 2015-19.

She thanked him for a being a decent opponent and for “everything you have done for Denmark”.

Rasmussen, who was not short of joking remarks himself, said he “had a habit of handing over the keys to a Social Democrat”.

After losing the 2011 election, he gave then-Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt his government’s budget repurposed as a handbag, while Thorning-Schmidt gave Rasmussen a bus ticket.

Roles were reversed in 2015, when Rasmussen, having regained power, gave Thorning-Schmidt a selfie stick and received festival tickets in return.

The Danish tradition of giving gifts while handing over power is a modern one, having gradually emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Transition of power used to be very formal,” DR’s political commentator Bent Stuckert told Politiken in 2011. That is evidenced by the below video, which shows Anker Jørgensen making way for Poul Hartling in 1973.

The 2019 version, coming at the end of a long negotiation period to form government, continued Denmark’s overtly friendly approach to handing over the keys to power.

READ ALSO: Here is Denmark's new Social Democrat government