On the night of Denmark’s 2015 general election, the exultation of Kristian Thulesen Dahl was palpable as he strode into the election night party in Denmark’s Christiansborg Palace. In three years as leader, he had managed to push his party ahead even of the Liberals, the traditionally biggest party on Denmark.
He stood there as the room applauded, his legs apart in an almost rock-star pose, rocking on his heels with barely containable energy.
Six years later, The Danish People’s Party has the support of just 5.4 percent of voters, barely more than a quarter of what it had at its peak, and only slightly above the number who support New Right, a rival populist party. The party lost 21 out of its 37 seats in last June’s election.
Last week, a county councillor for the party publicly called on Thulesen Dahl to resign and make way for a successor.
“I think he should realise that his time as the person at the top is short. I don’t believe that he can turn around the declining trend,” Hans Sønderby told the Avisen Danmark newspaper.
After Sønderby was pilloried by other party members, he announced on Wednesday that he was resigning from the party.
Thulesen Dahl himself raised the question of his successor on Sunday in an interview with the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, and although he still says he hopes to lead the party to the next election in 2023, this is now looking vanishingly unlikely.
What has the Danish People’s Party represented in Denmark?
Few populist parties in Europe have had as much success in winning real changes in policy. The 12 percent of the vote it won in 2001 meant that the government of Liberal Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was dependent on it for his government’s majority, something the party ruthlessly exploited to drive through what it boasted was “Europe’s strictest” immigration policy.
After the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy at the end of 2005, the party stepped up its criticism of Islam, Muslims and immigrants, reaping the electoral benefits, at the same time as skilfully using its position as the kingmaker party to drive through further policy changes.
“Overall, if you look at the 20 years, they have certainly affected immigration and integration policies and to some extent also law and order,” says Karina Kosiara-Pedersen, an associate professor at Copenhagen University. “They have also had an impact on discourse — how we talk about immigrants and integration.”
The minority Liberal government which ruled Denmark from 2015 to 2019 was even more dependent on the support of the party, and its immigration minister Inger Støjberg kept her government’s refugee and immigration policy firmly on Danish People’s Party territory.
Where did it go wrong?
Some argue that the party’s problems stem from the decision not to go into government after its 2015 triumph.