Should Denmark make it harder for new parties to enter elections?

Experienced politicians in Denmark say it has become too easy for newcomers to run in general elections and have called for rules to be reviewed in the wake of last week’s vote.

Should Denmark make it harder for new parties to enter elections?
Klaus Riskær Pedersen as general election results filter through on June 5th. Photo: Nikolai Linares / Ritzau Scanpix

The 2019 general election saw 13 different parties listed on ballot papers – the highest number in 25 years. Three failed to enter parliament.

Election veterans have called for reform after a digital process was introduced for nominating new parties, easing the path for newcomers to reach the 20,000 so-called citizens’ nominations (vælgererkæringer) in time for the vote, Berlingske reports.

One party, the far-right extremist Stram Kurs, fulfilled the requirement weeks before the election was announced. Another, Klaus Riskær Pedersen, qualified earlier this year.

Neither of the two newest parties reached the threshold of 2 percent of the overall vote share needed to enter parliament.

“In the past, you had to send in written (physical) forms. That meant new parties were more serious. It has now become much easier, and that can make a mockery of democracy and ruin political debate,” veteran MP Berthel Haarder of the Liberal (Venstre) party told Berlingske.

Haarder, the longest-serving member of parliament, has suggested that the required number of citizens’ declarations be increased from 20,000 to 40,000.

Former leaders of a range of established parties, including Uffe Ellemann-Jensen (Liberals), Mogens Lykketoft (Social Democrats), Holger K. Nielsen (Socialist People’s Party) and Marianne Jelved (Social Liberals) have all agreed that current rules should be reviewed.

“It’s a problem that it is so easy to run. That is not the purpose of the party system we have in Denmark, and we are risking all sorts of chancers and others who suddenly appear being able to run. That is not sensible,” Nielsen said.

The issue appears to have divided opinion within the Danish parliament at Christiansborg.

Henrik Dam Kristensen of the Social Democrats said that caution should be applied before “making it too difficult (to run as a new party)”, while Karen Ellemann of the Liberals said she supported stricter rules.

Isabella Arendt is acting leader of the Christian Democrats, an established party with a small voter base which just missed out on election to parliament last week. Arendt said it would be “an incredibly bad idea” to make it harder for new parties to run in general elections.

The leader of the only new party to be elected to parliament, New Right’s Pernille Vermund, expressed similar sentiments.

“If it is made even more difficult, a lot of people will feel their voices are not being heard,” Vermund said to Berlingske.

READ ALSO: What do Denmark's left-wing parties want in talks to form new government?

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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