Danish ‘grand coalition’ idea not a hit with voters, poll finds

Political backing for a potential government partnership between the Liberal and Social Democrat parties looks unlikely, and public enthusiasm is also in short supply.

Danish 'grand coalition' idea not a hit with voters, poll finds
Lars Løkke Rasmussen and Mette Frederiksen, here at an election debate in Aabenraa, appear unlikely to form a government together. Photo: Claus Fisker / Ritzau Scanpix

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen gave the idea credibility when he called it a “real option” in a book published last week.

With the exception of wartime unity governments, the two traditional rival parties have only governed together once before, for a brief period the late 1970s.

Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen subsequently moved to reject the possibility saying that the parties disagreed on too many areas for a cross-aisle government between the two to work, Ritzau reports, although a report by newspaper Politiken last week highlighted the fact that they have voted the same way in over 90 percent of the 824 legislative votes conducted in parliament over the last four years.

Nevertheless, voters also appear unconvinced by the prospect.

A poll conducted by Voxmeter on behalf of Ritzau shows 32 percent of voters in favour of the proposal and 48 percent against it, while 20 percent said they did not know what their view was.

Liberal voters were more open to the idea than their Social Democratic counterparts, however.

65 percent of Liberal voters approved of a potential partnership between the parties, compared to just 27 percent of Social Democrat backers.

READ ALSO: Could election result in first 'grand coalition' in Denmark since 1970s?

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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