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Is the Danish People’s Party chaos a sign of far-right party’s impending collapse?

The far-right Danish People’s Party is in crisis after five of its parliamentarians quit the party in two days and its former leader failed to rule out also quitting in protest at the new leader, Morten Messerschmidt.

Danish People's Party leader Morten Messerschmidt
Danish People's Party leader Morten Messerschmidt speaks to press on February 22nd 2022. The far right party is in crisis after several MPs quit in protest at Messerschmidt's leadership. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

A senior figure in the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DF) suggested the party could face collapse as five members of parliament left the anti-immigration party in two days.

The party was set to hold crisis talks on Tuesday after four of its members of parliament walked out on the party on Monday in protest at new leader Morten Messerschmidt, who was elected last month.

The four MPs, Liselott Blixt, Bent Bøgsted, Karina Adsbøl and Lise Bech all had spokesperson positions representing DF in parliament.

They said the reason for their departure was that they no longer have confidence in Messerschmidt as leader.

A fifth member, business spokesperson Hans Kristian Skibby, said on Tuesday morning he would also be leaving the party.

“My decision is necessary solely because it has become more and more challenging to work for DF at Christiansborg [parliament, ed.] in recent years, where internal failures, gossip, undermining work by others and most recently a significantly worsened leadership style make it impossible for me to continue in the party,” Skibby said in a comment to newspaper Berlingske.

In a Facebook post, Adsbøl wrote that “no one can force me to support a leader who is about to go to the city court accused of document falsification and fraud”, in reference to Messerschmidt’s pending retrial in a high-profile EU fraud case.

Earlier on Tuesday, the former deputy leader of the party Søren Espersen lashed out at the defectors and speculated that their exits could herald the end of DF as a political party.

Asked whether the party could collapse, Espersen told broadcaster DR’s Radioavisen programme “it could be that’s where we end up”.

“I’m shocked over what’s happened and I’m furious at the four of them,” he said in comments prior to Skibby’s exit.

“This is pure desertion and treachery which they are committing to our very large majority of delegates,” he said in reference to the majority support for Messerschmidt at last month’s party congress, where the new leader was elected by members.

Messerschmidt himself commented briefly on the situation on Monday evening.

“I have not heard from them all week before this so it naturally surprises me a little,” he said.

“I was elected at the congress to set a new course for the Danish People’s Party. If you have something against me as a person, that’s a challenge. That’s how it is at Christiansborg,” he said.

“But I’d have probably expected them to be loyal to the decision the party members have taken,” he said.

News got worse for the DF leader on Tuesday as his erstwhile leadership rival Martin Henriksen, who also quit the party earlier this month, applied to the interior ministry for approval of a new party name, newspaper Ekstra Bladet reported. That is a sign that Henriksen, an anti-Islam hardliner, could be set to start a rival party to DF.

Messerschmidt’s predecessor as leader, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, on Tuesday failed to guarantee that he himself would not follow his erstwhile colleagues out of the door, but said his “ambition” and “aim” was to continue in DF.

“My ambition is to stay in the Danish People’s Party, and I hope the best for the party,” Dahl said to news wire Ritzau.

Comments by the now ex-members have also linked Pia Kjærsgaard, the party’s leader from 1995 to 2012 and co-founder along with Dahl, to the “poor working environment” within the party that had contributed to the walkouts this week. Kjærsgaard is a vocal supporter of Messerschmidt.

Kjærsgaard, a former speaker of parliament, has lost her position as a deputy speaker as a result of the accusations made by the party leavers against her, Ritzau reported. The development weakens DF’s overall influence in parliament.

“That’s the way it goes. Pure technicality. I’m sure I, and the party, will get over it. There are more important things for DF right now,” Kjærsgaard told Ekstra Bladet.

DF flopped badly in local elections in November 2021, losing over half of its vote share from 2017 going from 8.75 percent to 4.08 percent. That represented the party’s third consecutive election failure after poor performances in the 2019 general election and EU elections.

The high water mark for the party was at the 2015 general election, when it took 21.1 percent of the vote and became the second largest party in parliament with 37 MPs. This week’s defections leave it with 11 lawmakers remaining.

READ ALSO: Far-right Danish People’s Party chooses new leader

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Poll suggests Danes ready to scrap EU opt-out in referendum

A new poll indicates a majority of Danes is in favour of scrapping the country’s EU defence opt-out in an upcoming referendum.

Poll suggests Danes ready to scrap EU opt-out in referendum

The poll, conducted by Epinion on behalf of broadcaster DR, shows 38 percent of voters in favour of revoking the opt-out, compared with 27 percent who want to retain it.

28 percent said they do not know how they will vote, meaning there is still plenty of potential for both a “yes” and “no” outcome in the June 1st vote.

An earlier poll, conducted in March, put the two sides closer, with 38 percent of eligible voters then saying they would vote ‘yes’ to scrapping the opt-out, with 31 percent saying they would vote ‘no’ and 31 percent saying they didn’t know.

The government announced in March a June 1st referendum in which citizens will decide whether to overturn Denmark’s opt-out from EU defence policy. The referendum was called following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Denmark’s opt-out – retsforbehold in Danish – is one of four EU special arrangements negotiated by the Scandinavian country, and has seen it abstain from participation in EU military operations and from providing support or supplies to EU-led defence efforts.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark have four EU ‘opt-outs’ and what do they mean?

In April, the wording of the question on voting ballots for the referendum was changed, following objections from politicians opposed to scrapping the opt-out.

According to a breakdown of the new poll, younger voters and women are the most undecided groups. 20 percent of men said they were unsure how to vote compared to 38 percent of women.

Among 18-34 year-olds, 39 percent were unsure how they would vote compared to 22 percent of voters over the age of 56 who have yet to decide how to cast their votes.

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