What happened on the first day of Denmark’s general election race?

Thirteen parties are running in the 2019 general election. Here’s what happened on Tuesday, the day the election was called by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

What happened on the first day of Denmark’s general election race?
PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen greets other party leaders prior to a televised election debate on May 7th, 2019. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard / Ritzau Scanpix

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.

With almost a full calendar month until then, the general election campaigning season is set to be long – but parties wasted no time in getting started.

At 1:15pm, Rasmussen requested permission to speak to MPs assembled in parliament. He thereby announced the election would be held on June 5th.

The nine parties already represented in parliament will compete in the election, as will the Christian Democrats, a minor party which failed to reach the threshold to enter parliament at the last election.

Three new fringe parties have also been approved to run: the Klaus Riskær party, the New Right (Nye Borgerlige), and the Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party.

Stram Kurs and its leader Rasmus Paludan, an Islamophobic provocateur with a criminal conviction for inciting racial hatred, are particularly controversial. The party advocates a form of ethnic cleansing through the deportation of thousands of Danes with foreign heritage, and wants to ban Islam entirely.

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

The New Right, which promotes libertarian economic policies, is also vehemently anti-Islam and has called for even tighter immigration rules than those propagated by the established right-wing nationalist party, the Danish People’s Party.

The presence of the new parties could result in a shift in discourse and campaigning around the election towards immigration and away from other areas thought to be high on Danes’ agendas, such as climate, healthcare and pensions.

Meanwhile, Mette Frederiksen, the leader of the Social Democrat party who hopes to become prime minister after the election, was unable to campaign after being hospitalized since Saturday with a stomach complaint.

Frederiksen was replaced by the party’s political spokesperson, Nicolai Wammen, in the first of the televised debates between party leaders, which was broadcast on Tuesday evening.

35 current MPs will not be running for re-election. These include Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, a former lead spokesperson with the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) party, who is prevented from running by her own party’s rotation rules and has taken a job as secretary general with Save the Children Denmark. Liberal Alliance’s Thyra Frank, the current minister for the elderly, has decided to retire from politics; Frank is not currently an MP but did serve as one from 2011-15.

The ‘red bloc’ group of left-wing and centre-left parties – the Social Democrats, Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre), Socialist People’s Party and Red-Green Alliance – currently have a clear lead in polls, with 54.2 points according to Ritzau Index.

The conservative ‘blue bloc’ – Rasmussen’s Liberals along with the Conservatives, Liberal Alliance and Danish People’s Party – are at 44.5 percent according to the same poll. Such a split would give 78 of parliament’s 179 seats to Rasmussen’s group, and a majority 97 to the current opposition.

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

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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