Conservative parties win slim majority in Denmark’s ‘school general election’

School students across Denmark voted in a mock general election on Thursday, and the result was a favourable one for many of the country’s conservative parties.

Conservative parties win slim majority in Denmark’s 'school general election'
Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Current polls suggest that Denmark’s ‘blue bloc’ conservative parties might struggle to hold their parliamentary majority in this year’s general elections, but the school election showed there is reason to be optimistic about the future for the political right.

Conservative parties won a narrow majority with 51.2 percent of the votes in Thursday’s school election, in which over 63,000 students in the 8th, 9th and 10th grades cast their ballots.

Meanwhile the opposition Social Democrats were the largest-scoring single party, with 22.6 percent of the vote. The party achieved 26.3 percent of votes in the last real general election in 2015.

Although the poll does not have any bearing on the real general election, senior politicians reacted to the result on social media, including Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

“It’s great that our youth have views on the world they are a part of and want to ask questions, discuss with each other and explain what they mean. That’s what democracy is about,” Rasmussen tweeted.

The PM’s Liberal (Venstre) party took 17 percent of votes, compared to 19.5 percent in the actual elections in 2015. The populist Danish People’s Party was voted for by 8.4 percent of young people. The anti-immigration party was backed by 21.1 percent of the voting population in 2015’s parliamentary election.

Other parties gained the following vote shares: Conservative: 13.1 percent; Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre): 11.1 percent; Liberal Alliance: 9.9 percent; Socialist People’s Party: 5.7 percent; Red-Green Alliance: 4.8 percent; Alternative: 4.6 percent.

The school elections are held once every two years and are organised by parliament, the Ministry of Education and Dansk Ungdoms Fællesråd (Council for Danish Youth).

Around 80,000 14-17 year-olds from schools across the country took part in a three-week course of lessons prior to the vote, in which they were taught about the key issues of the various parties and took part in debates with youth party representatives.

63,000 of the 80,000 who were able to vote did so on Thursday, while the decision to take part in the event rested with individual schools. Some schools chose not to participate. Not all parties were able to send representatives to some debates.

The last school elections, in 2017, ended with a 55.3 percent majority for conservative parties.

READ ALSO: Danish youngsters to vote in 'school general elections'


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