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

General election campaigning is officially underway in Denmark after Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen on Tuesday announced that voting will take place on June 5th, the country’s Constitution Day.

Denmark general election: what party leaders are saying after vote date announced
Danish People's Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl speaks to reports at the Danish parliament after the 2019 general election is announced. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard / Ritzau Scanpix

With almost a full calendar month until then, the general election campaigning season is set to be long by Danish standards.

High profile MPs from a number of parties took to the streets in Copenhagen within hours of Rasmussen’s announcement, including Minister of Finance Kristian Jensen, who handed out flyers at Nørreport Station.

Photo: Nils Meilvang / Ritzau Scanpix

Søren Pape Poulsen, leader of the Conservatives and justice minister in the current coalition government, said he expected a hectic election campaign.

“We now have to discuss what the parties want. I believe it will be full speed ahead with 13 parties that have an opinion on everything, so I’m sure it will be good,” Poulsen said to Ritzau.

In referring to 13 parties, rather than the nine currently represented in parliament, Poulsen recognised the participation of the tiny Christian Democrats and three new fringe parties: the Klaus Riskær party, the New Right (Nye Borgerlige) and the Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party.

The latter of those parties, an extremist Islamophobic group which recently hit headlines through provocative demonstrations in areas with sizeable minority ethnic communities, wants to forbid Islam in Denmark and to deport non-Western people from the country.

Its leader, Rasmus Paludan, has a criminal conviction for inciting racial hatred and has been blocked by Facebook.

The party was recently approved for approval in the general election after gaining letters of support from 20,000 voters and is likely to be a prominent feature of campaigning season.

READ ALSO: Concern as party with 'fascist tendencies' nears approval for Danish elections

Conservative leader Poulsen said he wanted the election to focus on public spending and businesses.

“People are waiting in line to spend money [in parliament],” he said.

“Very few people mention that the reason we have good jobs in this country is that we have companies which are able to earn money for Denmark. I hope that will be a part of what this election is fought on,” he said.

Uffe Elbæk, political leader with the environmentalist Alternative party, said he wanted the climate and environment to “overshadow everything” in the election.

“We want a green election campaign and we want a green bloc. Will that gain a complete breakthrough in this election? No, probably not, but we will stand by it completely,” Elbæk said to Ritzau.

The Alternative party has broken with Denmark’s traditional left- and right-wing “bloc” system of parliamentary alliances by naming Elbæk as its preferred prime ministerial candidate, rather than Mette Frederiksen, leader of the Social Democrats.

The Social Democrat party, which has taken an increasingly hardline approach to immigration since losing the 2015 election, has recently focused on pensions as it braced itself for elections.

The party wants to make it easier for people with work-related chronic injuries to take early retirement.

Leader Mette Frederiksen wrote on social media this week that she had been temporarily hospitalized, but that she would be ready for the campaign.

“I am unfortunately still not very well,” Frederiksen wrote on Facebook, adding she was suffering with a “bad stomach ache” as well as dehydration.

“I’ll be ready the second I’m on my feet again. And I’m looking forward to discussing pensions,” she wrote prior to Rasmussen’s announcement.

Social Democrat campaigners in Aalborg. Photo: Henning Bagger / Ritzau Scanpix

The left-wing Red-Green Alliance, a traditional ally of the Social Democrats, wants Frederiksen to prove her worth as a prime ministerial candidate, its lead spokesperson Pernille Skipper said.

“It’s important for us to say that we are not participating in this election to just make Mette Frederiksen prime minister. We want more welfare, conversion to green energy and better integration [of immigrants and refugees, ed.], where we treat each other decently,” Skipper told Ritzau.

“We want something that’s better than Lars Løkke (Rasmussen),” she added.

The Red-Green Alliance leader also made specific reference to Sjælsmark, a controversial accommodation centre for rejected asylum seekers, in her comments.

“It’s unbearable that there are children (at Sjælsmark) who are growing up with such an uncertain future in such intolerable conditions,” she said.

READ ALSO: Asylum families will not be allowed to make own meals at Danish deportation centre: minister

Anders Samuelsen, leader of coalition party Liberal Alliance and currently foreign minister, called for voters to keep their “heads cold and hearts warm” as they made their election choices.

“Our message in the election will be positive liberalism with rational, well-thought-through plans, which will give us greater togetherness in Denmark,” Samuelsen said.

“There are forces trying to split us and talk us into division. That is Rasmus Paludan, it’s also violent leftists, and it’s also Islamists,” the libertarian party leader said.

“I hope that we as politicians don’t fall into that trap and I therefore hope for an election in which we each present our politics in a sober fashion,” he added.

Along with the Conservatives, Alternative, Social Democrats, Red-Green Alliance, Liberal Alliance, Rasmussen’s Liberal (Venstre) party, the three first-time participants and the Christian Democrats; the centre-left Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) and the right-wing, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF) make up the gamut of contestants in the 2019 general election.

On Twitter, Social Liberal leader Morten Østergaard wrote that the election was taking place at a time when “fundamental rights are being challenged and values are on fire sale”.

“Let’s set a new course towards a greener, freer and stronger Denmark,” he added.

Danish People’s Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl promised to focus on immigration, his party’s core issue.

“The focus will be on whether we should keep a hard line on foreigners and spend the money on welfare, or whether immigration policies should be made more lenient again,” Dahl told Ritzau.

The DF leader has previously suggested the Social Democrats may not stick to their current policies on immigration – which are similar to those of DF – should the centre-left party take power after the election.

READ ALSO: Denmark to hold general election on June 5th

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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