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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Could Baltic Sea gas pipe leaks affect Denmark’s election timeline?

Four leaks have been detected after suspected sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines running from Russia to Europe. Could the leaks, which are in the Danish and Swedish economic zones, impact the timing of Denmark’s next general election?

Could Baltic Sea gas pipe leaks affect Denmark’s election timeline?

Leaks on the Nord Stream pipelines near Danish island Bornholm in the Baltic Sea are due to “deliberate acts” and “not an accident”, Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen said on Tuesday.

“The clear advice from the authorities is they were deliberate acts. We are not talking about an accident,” Danish prime minister Frederiksen told a press conference. “We don’t have information yet about those responsible.” 

But the situation in the Baltic Sea should not affect the likelihood of an early general election being called in Denmark, according to three different political parties.

The Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party earlier this year demanded Frederiksen call an early election. The demand was issued in response to the conclusions of an inquiry into the government’s 2020 mink scandal, which resulted in Frederiksen receiving a rebuke.

The Social Liberals have threatened to bring down the government through a vote of no confidence if an election is not called by October 4th.

Legally, the latest date on which a general election can be held is June 4th next year.

READ ALSO: How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

The centre-left Social Liberals, a parliamentary ally of the governing Social Democrats, on Tuesday said they are sticking to their early election demand despite a raised alert level in Denmark after the explosions and leakages at the Nord Stream gas pipes.

“This happened in international waters. It is not an attack on Denmark,” Social Liberal leader Sofie Carsten Nielsen said in a social media post, while also calling the Nord Stream leaks “disturbing”.

“There are both wars and crises that must be dealt with for a long time yet,” she also wrote in the post.

“That is also why we can’t wait for an eight-month long election campaign,” she wrote.

“We need an election. So we can get away from election campaigning. And solve the challenges,” she added.

Another left wing party, the Red Green Alliance, has not commented on the early election situation since the Nord Stream leaks. The party’s political leader, Mai Villadsen, earlier called the threat “risky” because it could result in defeat for the left-wing alliance which currently works with the government.

The government’s two main rivals in opposition, the Conservatives and the Liberal (Venstre) party, both said on Wednesday that they did not believe the Nord Stream situation was cause to delay an election.

“Denmark has de facto been in election season since the Social Liberals gave Mette Frederiksen an ultimatum after the Mink Commission’s heavy criticism of the prime minister and her leadership,” Liberal political spokesperson Sophie Løhde said in a written comment to news wire Ritzau.

“Our country has large challenges which must be solved. And a general election is needed so we can get a new prime minister and a conservative-liberal government that will take responsibility and create economic security for Danes and steer us safely through the energy crisis,” she said.

A similar message came from Løhde’s counterpart in the Conservative party, Mette Abildgaard, who noted that the events in the Baltic did not represent a military threat to Denmark.

“There is no heightened military security threat to Denmark. This is a serious situation but it will also be a serious situation in two, three or four months. We can therefore just as well get an election done so we are ready to deal with the coming challenges,” she said to Ritzau.

The government is yet to give any indication of when it might call an election, with Frederiksen skirting the issue when asked.