Analysis: Danish general election will demonstrate shift to right, but could be end for Rasmussen

New political movements, including a vehemently Islamophobic party, are to contest the Danish general election, while the Social Democrats could work with right ring parties on immigration.

Analysis: Danish general election will demonstrate shift to right, but could be end for Rasmussen
Photo: Henning Bagger / Ritzau Scanpix

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen announced the election on Tuesday, with latest opinion polls showing the opposition left-wing bloc, headed by the Social Democrats, ahead with 54 percent of votes, compared to 46 percent for Rasmussen and his right-wing bloc.

Observers have suggested that the Social Democrats, the largest party currently in opposition, could form a minority government that would cooperate with the right-wing bloc on immigration issues and with the left on other policies.

That would be a significant break from the clear left- and right-wing or ‘red and blue bloc’ party politics around which Danish politics has been based for decades.

The Social Democrats could also reach out to Danish People's Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl, who last year hailed the left party's shift towards a more restrictive immigration policy.

That change has been eyed warily by other left-wing parties, who are yet to pledge their full support for Social Democrats leader Mette Frederiksen.

A former employment minister who later took over the justice portfolio, Frederiksen presented proposals last year to send “non-Western” foreigners and “non-ethnic Danes” to UN camps in Africa.

Such anti-immigrant rhetoric, first introduced by the far-right, is now commonly used by the Social Democrats and other parties.

“The political climate has been anti-immigration for years. The Danish People's Party's agenda has been adopted by mainstream parties,” Anders Widfeldt, a lecturer at Scotland's University of Aberdeen who specialises in Nordic politics, told AFP.

In this climate, two new far-right parties, pushing agendas to the right of the Danish People's Party, have emerged and are vying for seats in the election.

One of them, the New Right, which promotes libertarian economic policies, has called for even tighter immigration rules.

The other party, Stram Kurs, which means “Hard Line” in English, is headed by Rasmus Paludan, a vehemently anti-Muslim provocateur already convicted of inciting racial hatred and blocked by Facebook.

Rasmussen and Søren Pape Poulsen, leader of junior coalition partner the Conservatives, both said on Tuesday that they would not form any government that relies on Paludan’s parliamentary support, should the fringe party reach the required threshold of 2 percent of votes required to enter the legislature. Last week, both Rasmussen and Poulsen initially declined to rule out working with Paludan, Politiken reported.

For Prime Minister Rasmussen, 54, an election defeat would in all likelihood put an end to his 25-year career in Danish politics.

At the head of the centre-right Liberal Party since 2009, he has served as prime minister, from 2009 to 2011 and 2015 to 2019, interrupted by a four-year Social Democratic government.

“Lars Løkke Rasmussen knows that if he loses he will also be finished as leader of his party,” said Christine Cordsen, political analyst at public television DR.

Yet under his leadership, Denmark's economy has thrived. It is expected to grow by 1.8 percent in 2019 against 1.3 percent in the eurozone.

The country also has almost full employment, with a jobless rate of just 3.7 percent in March compared to 7.7 percent in the eurozone.

The Danish parliament, the Folketing, has 179 seats, including two each for its autonomous territories Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Parties must win at least two percent of votes to be represented in parliament.

Voter turnout is traditionally high in Denmark. In 2015, 85.9 percent of the 4.5 million eligible voters cast their ballots.

READ ALSO: Denmark general election: what party leaders are saying after vote date announced

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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