Denmark’s Quran-burning extremist just misses out on parliament

Denmark's notorious anti-Muslim extremist Rasmus Paludan, known for burning the Quran in public places narrowly missed out on a seat in parliament in Wednesday's general election.

Denmark's Quran-burning extremist just misses out on parliament
Anti-Muslim extremist Rasmus Paludan. Photo: Philip Davali/ Ritzau Scanpix

Paludan and his Stram Kurs party had been tipped to enter parliament but when the final votes were tallied they failed to get above the 2 percent needed.

Paludan, has espoused vehemently anti-Islam rhetoric and has a criminal conviction (he has appealed) for inciting racial hatred. He also wants to ban Islam — in breach of the constitution — and deport swathes of non-ethnic Danes from the country.

He is known, amongst other things, for burning and desecrating the Quran at demonstrations in areas with large minority ethnic populations.

Such action could have resulted in criminal charges in Denmark as recently as 2017, when the country abolished a long-standing blasphemy law.

But in the run up to Wednesday's vote Paludan looked on course to be able to voice his views in parliament.

As the votes were counted his party straddled the crucial two percent mark throughout the night. At one point it seemed they would have enough votes to make it into parliament but as the ballots in urban areas began to add up Stram Kurs percentage of the vote dipped below two percent.

They finished on 1.8 percent.

Denmark uses an electoral system of proportional representation to divvy out its 179 seats (normally referred to as mandates in Danish).

Set at 2 percent, parties who receive a lower national share of the vote than this threshold do not qualify for parliamentary representation.

Denmark’s established centre-right parties had largely disavowed Stram Kurs, which says that it won’t support either Lars Løkke Rasmussen or Mette Frederiksen for prime minister. Paludan instead supported himself as PM.

But Wednesday's results confirmed that he will simply remain a provocative figure on the fringes of Danish politics.


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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