Samuelsen quits as Liberal Alliance leader after election trouncing

Outgoing foreign minister Anders Samuelsen has resigned as Liberal Alliance party leader and will leave Danish politics, he said on Thursday.

Samuelsen quits as Liberal Alliance leader after election trouncing
Anders Samuelsen announcing his resignation to press. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard / Ritzau Scanpix

After an awful election for the libertarian party, a junior partner in the outgoing coalition government, Samuelsen’s position had become untenable.

Wednesday’s general election saw Liberal Alliance (LA) lose 9 of its 13 seats — including Samuelsen's own spot — reducing it to the smallest party in parliament.

Samuelsen announced his resignation at a press conference on Thursday.

“Victory has many fathers, but defeat has only one. I’m the one at the forefront of the party, and I accept responsibility. I am therefore resigning as leader of Liberal Alliance after ten fantastic years,” he said.

The resignation was a “definitive goodbye” to Danish politics, he confirmed.

The outgoing leader said he backed current deputy Simon Emil Amitzbøll-Bille to take over as leader.

As a first-time coalition partner, LA’s time in government was particularly damaged by its failure to fulfil promises to force through tax cuts for high-end earners.

After threatening to vote against the budget at one stage, Samuelsen eventually blinked in a standoff with other government parties and allies on the issue.

“I accept complete responsibility for decisions I have made on behalf of the party that have led to defeat,” he said.

A number of other LA parliamentarians – including Joachim B. Olsen, who last month hit headlines for placing an election ad on a pornography website – also lost their seats due to the defeat.

Christina Egelund and Laura Lindahl are also among the Liberal Alliance politicians who will not be returning to parliament.

READ ALSO: What we learned: Seven things to know about the Danish election result

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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