Denmark has voted and the left wing has won the election. Or has it? Here’s what happens next

The four left wing and left-of-centre parties in the ‘red bloc’ of Denmark’s parliament won an overall majority in last night’s election. These are the next steps towards a new government being formed.

Denmark has voted and the left wing has won the election. Or has it? Here’s what happens next
Danish party leaders take part in a late-night debate at Christiansborg following the election.Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Outgoing Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who conceded defeat in the election late last night, will visit Queen Margrethe at around 11am, this morning, where he will formally tender his government’s resignation.

This afternoon, Her Majesty will engage in the so-called ‘Queen’s Round’ (‘Dronningerunde’), where she will meet with representatives from each of the parliamentary parties, who will advise her of their recommendations – including who they are nominating as prime minister.

With an overall majority backing Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen (the Social Liberals, Socialist People’s Party and Red Green Alliance, as well as Frederiksen’s own party), she is likely to be given the nod.

Rasmussen said last night that his party would recommend he continues as PM at the head of a coalition with traditional rivals on the left of centre, but the left wing's majority will probably (but not certainly) render this possibility a non-starter. 

However, the left parties – particularly the Social Liberals – will want policy concessions, so negotiations over how the government will be formed could take some time.

The Queen will likely give Frederiksen a mandate to either form a government immediately or to try to form a government through negotiations, said Rune Stubager, professor of political science at Aarhus University.

“I think the Social Liberals will phrase their advice so that, depending on the outcome of (coming) negotiations, they might support her, something to that effect,” Stubager said at a press briefing on Thursday morning.

“They want to use this opportunity to put as much pressure as possible on the Social Democrats,” he added.

The Social Liberals, a traditional coalition partner of the Social Democrats until Frederiksen last year announced her preference for a purely Social Democrat minority government, will be buoyed by their own strong election performance and will look to push for concessions on immigration and economic policy.

That means that, although Frederiksen is highly likely to get the nod to try to form government – leaving Rasmussen’s overtures for a cross-aisle coalition on the scrapheap – there’s still some way to go before we know how the new government is going to look.

READ ALSO: Analysis: How Social Democrat shift in immigration stance was key to Danish election victory

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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