Danish People’s Party braces itself for tough election night

The populist, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF), a hugely influential player in Denmark’s politics for two decades, could lose as much as half of its vote share in the June 5th general election.

Danish People’s Party braces itself for tough election night
Kristian Thulesen Dahl, flanked by New Right's Pernille Vermund (L) and Pernille Skipper of the Red Green Alliance. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

DF leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl seemed resigned to defeat in his weekly letter, published on the party’s website two days before the election.

“All polls suggest we are going to be punished emphatically by voters compared to the election in 2015, and we also had that (bad) kind of election in the European parliament elections last Sunday,” Dahl wrote.

The anti-immigration party was cut from 4 seats in the EU parliament to 1 in the May 26th vote.

On Monday, Voxmeter polls put the DF's share at 9.9 percent, its lowest score for eight years, setting up a potentially crushing defeat in light of its performance in 2015, when it gained 21.1 percent of the vote to become Denmark’s second-largest party.

In 2015, DF exceeded expectations by taking more votes than polls had predicted.

The adoption of the vast majority of DF’s programme on immigration by the opposition Social Democrats is a key reason for the struggles of the established anti-immigration force, with many voters thought to have deserted Dahl’s party to vote for Mette Frederiksen.

At a press briefing on May 27th, the party’s MP Kenneth Kristensen Berth sought to point out DF’s consistent policy on immigration.

With DF, voters who want to limit immigration can “get the original for the same price”, Berth said.

The emergence of two new hardline anti-immigration parties to the right of DF is another factor in its diminished vote share, however.

READ ALSO: How two decades of immigration curbs moved far-right politics into Denmark's mainstream

Meanwhile, outspoken former leader Pia Kjærsgaard, who is the current speaker of parliament, on Monday called the audience of a live debate at public service broadcaster DR “awful”.

“Awful audience carefully selected by DR. Applause and tears every time acceptance of refugees mentioned. Silence to repatriation and asylum freeze,” Kjærsgaard tweeted, with no documentation for her claim the audience had been vetted.

DR’s head of news Thomas Falbe rejected the accusation.

“It’s a shame this has been presented as if we manipulated the people in the room. We have no interest in that. People came from all over Denmark and registration was free and open to all,” Falbe told Ritzau.

DR “in no way selected or rejected anyone. It was first come, first served,” the head of news said to BT.

Kjærsgaard, who also recently blamed climate activists for the high European election turnout before seeing those comments backfire, was accused of “playing the victim” and propagating a conspiracy theory by social media users.

In an interview with Radio 24syv on Tuesday, she doubled down on her statement and said she wasn’t obliged to provide proof for the claim.

“I’m entitled to say what my impression is without having a document in my hand and saying ‘here it is’,” Kjærsgaard said.

Regardless of the party’s troubles, current leader Dahl still appears to have the confidence of its representatives in parliament.

“However it goes on Wednesday, I still have full confidence in Kristian as leader,” DF lawmaker Lise Bech told Ritzau via text message.


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ANALYSIS: Why are Denmark’s politicians criticising university researchers?

The Danish parliament has recently adopted a controversial text asking universities to ensure that "politics is not disguised as science". The Local's contributor Sophie Standen examines why Denmark's politicians are criticising university researchers.

ANALYSIS: Why are Denmark's politicians criticising university researchers?
Populist politicians have singled out courses at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) for following a so-called 'woke' agenda. Photo: Bjarke MacCarthy/CBS

What has happened? 

On the 1st of June, a majority in the Danish parliament adopted a written declaration that aimed to combat ‘excessive activism in certain humanities and social science research environments’.

The initial debate was led by Morten Messerschmidt from the Danish People’s Party (DF) and Henrik Dahl from Liberal Alliance (LA). The declaration was then voted through, with all of the major parties in favour, including the governing Social Democratic party.

What does the controversial declaration say? 

The declaration stated that the Danish parliament expects that university managements will ensure the self-regulation of scientific research, so that ‘politics is not disguised as science’.

However, it also asserted that Danish parliament has no right to determine the method or topic of research in Danish universities, and stressed the importance of free and critical debate in the research community.

Who is upset by it? 

The adoption of this position by Danish parliament has proven extremely controversial for many academics and researchers, with over 3,200 Danish and international researchers signing an open letter denouncing the stance adopted by the Danish government.

The authors of the letter stated that ‘academic freedom is under increasing attack’, and described the developments as ‘highly troubling’.

Furthermore, in another open letter to the Minister for Higher Education and Science, Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen, published in the Politiken newspaper, 262 Danish university researchers complained that they were facing increasing occurrences of personal intimidation and harassment due their research.

What is concerning university researchers and professors? 

Professor Lisa Ann Richey, a professor at Copenhagen Business School, told The Local that the parliament’s move was “illiberal” as “it doesn’t support freedom”. 

Richey, who has been a professor in Denmark for more than 20 years, was one of co-organisers of the open letter, and a co-signatory of the letter published in Politiken.

“I am one of the international recruits who finds the Danish research environment a great place to work,” she said. “We have a strong university system and good research environments. One of the things we are risking here is that reputation, and also the possibility of recruiting internationally.”

She said that in her opinion, academia in Denmark was self-policing due to the exhaustive peer-review process and oversight by university authorities. 

“There are lots of checks and balances within academia, and sometimes it doesn’t seem like that because they [the politicians] have no idea how many evaluations we go through,” she said. “We have peer reviews, student reviews, and university assessments to ensure quality in research.” 

Is there a populist campaign behind the statement? 

Richey complained that long before the parliamentary statement, prominent populist politicians “came out on social media calling out particular courses”. 

“They did this to a course I taught in, saying now even CBS has become part of this ‘woke agenda’,” she complained. “This statement about politics dressed up as science, it’s meant to intimidate. We need university leadership to support us and we need everyone to recognise that this is a threat towards academic freedom and also to make sure that we don’t expose individuals”

Anders Bjarklev, the rector of the Danish Technical University (DTU), and president of the rector’s college for Danish universities, echoed this sentiment. Writing on social media, he has called the position adopted by parliament, ‘an attack on research freedom’. 

“When subjects are singled out by politicians, such as gender studies or post-colonial studies, then academics get worried because much of our funding is from the government,” he told The Local. 

“I am also worried that academics will be scared to take part or publish research in these subjects”.  As rector of DTU, he says he is “not sure what we could do differently”, as academics at the university “always want to ensure the highest quality standard of research”.

What has the government said to defend itself? 

In an interview with the Politiken newspaper, Bjørn Brandenborg, the Social Democrat’s spokesperson for higher education and science, insisted that despite the statement, there was “no general distrust of universities” on the part of the government. 

“The Danish parliament has a right, like all other citizens, to have an opinion on research results”, he continued, while stressing that “the Danish parliament will not become involved in decisions over what is researched in Danish universities”.

In his view, he said, the text voted on by the parliament was “completely unproblematic”, as  “all it says is that universities should take responsibility for the quality of their research”.

This adopted stance by the Danish government has shaken the arms-length principle of trust between Danish research institutions and the Danish government. Many have denounced the politicians who have singled out specific researchers on social media as examples of political activism within research in Denmark.

In a statement to Politiken, the minister responsible for Higher Education and Science in Denmark, Ane Halsboe-Jørgenson, remarked that the 3,241 researchers that had signed the open letter had “reached the wrong conclusion” about the adopted declaration.

She insisted that the Danish government is “fighting for research freedom”, while also remarking that she thinks “we politicians must stay far away from judging individuals and individual research areas”.

What will happen next? 

For Professor Lisa Ann Richey, “now, when major political parties are part of this, making a ‘non-problem’ a problem, then it’s really time that we [academics] have to respond.”

“Our work is important and it is not acceptable behaviour to try and bully individual researchers and to police research environments,” she continued. “This is something that will be moving forward now that universities have spoken out officially”.