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2022 DANISH ELECTION

‘Bloc politics’: A guide to understanding parliamentary elections in Denmark

How do parties and candidates get elected in Denmark, and why are some new parties already in parliament? Our five-minute guide to Danish party politics and elections helps make sense of the chaos.

'Bloc politics': A guide to understanding parliamentary elections in Denmark
Flags at Christiansborg Palace prior to the opening of the Danish Parliament on October 4th 2022. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

A parliamentary election will take place in Denmark on November 1st. Over a dozen parties will be competing for votes.

The number of parties in parliament frequently changes as new parties pop up and others sometimes disappear, while politicians commonly change allegiances, go independent or form their own groups.

The many parties are allied in ‘red’ and ‘blue blocs’ and the consensus system that sometimes results in brede aftaler (cross-aisle political agreements) could play a decisive role in who holds power after the election.

What is the ‘blue bloc’ and ‘red bloc’?

There are currently a monster 13 different parties in the Danish parliament – 17 if you count the two parties from the Faroe Islands and two from Greenland which have mandates in Copenhagen.

The total number of parties can change from one election to the next, mostly because new parties are regularly formed. It has recently been as low as 9 and was 11 a year ago.

The ‘bloc’ classification commonly referred to in Danish politics broadly denotes whether a party or group of parties is on the right or left of centre.

The governing Social Democrats, for example, are the largest party and de facto leader of the ‘red bloc’, meaning if these parties get the most votes in a general election, the prime minister will come from the Social Democrats. This is the case with the current PM, Mette Frederiksen.

On the other side, the Liberal (Venstre) party is the largest on the right wing or ‘blue bloc’, closely followed by the Conservative party.

In recent years, the leader of the Liberals was the nominative prime minister when the blue bloc took an overall majority in a general election. 

That may not necessarily be the case at the next general election because the leader of the Conservatives, Søren Pape Poulsen, has announced that he will run in the election as a prime ministerial candidate. Should the blue bloc get a majority, each individual ‘blue’ party would have to decide between Poulsen and the Liberal leader, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, as its preferred PM.

READ ALSO: Who do Denmark’s right-wing parties want to be prime minister?

It should be noted that because these blocs include so many parties, they encompass a range of political ideology, even though they can be grouped into two main competing factions.

On immigration, for example, the restrictive policies of the Social Democrats are far removed from the humanitarian-first approach of the far-left Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten).

On the right wing, the moderate pro-EU stance of the Liberals is very different from that of the vehemently anti-immigrant Nye Borgerlige (New Right), who want to leave the EU.

What are the general election rules?

How do so many different parties manage to enter parliament? To explain this adequately, a brief summary of general election rules is helpful.

A general election or folketingsvalg must take place once every four years, according to the Danish Constitution.

The election decides the distribution of parliament’s 179 seats or mandates, mandater. Therefore, one of the two blocs can seal an overall election victory if it claims 90 or more mandates, giving it a majority.

Parties running in the election must receive an overall vote share of at least 2 percent of the total number of votes cast to qualify for representation in parliament. After this, the mandates are distributed via a form of proportional representation termed forholdstalsmetoden in Danish.

The method gives each party the number of seats in parliament that corresponds to their vote share.

Unlike in British elections, however, Danish valgkredser or constituencies do not have one candidate running from each party. Instead, parties can put up several candidates in the same valgkreds, and voters can either pick their preferred candidate or just vote for the liste, meaning they give a general vote to a party.

The model for distribution of mandates is complex, using a system in which candidates can be elected through two types of mandate: a kredsmandat or a tillægsmandat (“constituency mandate” or “additional mandate”).

There are 135 kredsmandater. These are awarded based purely on local results: the candidate with most votes in a constituency gets that constituency’s seat or kredsmandat.

The 40 tillægsmandater are based on the vote share a party gets nationally and are designed to give parliament an equal reflection of the national vote split.

For example, if a party gets 20 percent of the national votes, it gets 20 percent of the additional mandates (the additional mandate allocations are in fact broken down into three regions, but we’ll leave this out for simplicity).

Candidates with a good number of personal votes, but who didn’t win the election locally, can therefore be elected on a tillægsmandat.

Once elected, there is no differentiation between the type of mandate through which a member of parliament got their seat – neither has superiority over the other.

Two mandates each are awarded to representatives elected in the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

Why are there parties in parliament that didn’t exist in 2019?

To be able to run for an election in Denmark, new political parties must get 20,182 so-called citizens’ nominations (vælgererklæringer) required to be rubber-stamped for inclusion on election ballots.

This means there can be parties which have been approved to run in elections but are not in parliament because there has not been an election since they were formed or approved (general elections are every four years).

This was the case up until recently with the Vegan Party, but that party will not run in the next election after all: after an internal power struggle it first changed its name to Green Alliance and then merged with an existing party, Alternative.

Paradoxically, as many as three new parties are currently in parliament without ever having run in a general election.

The three parties in question are the Moderates, formed by ex-prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen after he left the Liberals; the Denmark Democrats, led by Rasmussen’s erstwhile immigration minister Inger Støjberg; and the Independent Greens, led by Sikandar Siddique, a former member of the Alternative party who was elected while still in that group.

Because Rasmussen and Siddique were elected under their old parties at the 2019 election, they can carry their mandates over to their new parties.

Støjberg was also elected in 2019 but is no longer a member of parliament — she was expelled after a guilty verdict in a special impeachment court. Her party does, though, have representatives in the chamber who were elected in 2019 for another party (namely the Danish People’s Party), before defecting to Støjberg’s new group.

Rasmussen has meanwhile not declared his party for either bloc, saying he would prefer a grand coalition across the centre. He led a ‘blue bloc’ government as leader of the Liberals.

The three new parties have each registered 20,182 citizens’ nominations (vælgererklæringer) and will therefore be on the next election ballot. Before they had enough nominations, their members of parliament were listed as independents (løsgængere). 

Other new parties can have 20,182 citizens’ nominations but never enter parliament because they don’t get enough votes in the election (and don’t have any defectors from other parties). This was thankfully the case in 2019, when the extremist party Stram Kurs failed in its bid to enter parliament.

How do so many parties get anything done? 

Each party appoints a roster of ordførere or spokespersons, broadly covering the same portfolios as the government ministries.

In some cases, parties also have a politisk ordfører (political spokesperson) which is a more senior role. In the Red Green Alliance, which has a flat hierarchy with no “leader” title, the political spokesperson is effectively head of the parliamentary group.

The spokespersons can be invited to meetings with their corresponding government minister to negotiate legislation, depending on the parties involved. They can also summon the minister to a samråd (council) at which they can require ministers to answer questions related to a specified issue.

This is notably different to the titles given to MPs who are not in the government party in the UK, for example, where you will hear “shadow minister” used to refer to the opposition politicians. There are no shadow ministers in Danish politics as such, rather a series of spokespersons from different parties with mandates in the various areas of governance.

It sounds confusing, but feeds into the notion of consensus that runs throughout Danish politics. Even in times of polarisation and distrust, the Danish political system with its many parties is set up to force different factions to work together to find a middle ground, solution or agreement.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why do the names of Danish political parties have to be so confusing?

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POLITICS

Danish Liberal party demands ‘high ambitions’ from Social Democrats

Liberal (Venstre) party leader Jakob Ellemann-Jensen has said ambitions “above normal” should be aimed for in talks to form a government across the political centre.

Danish Liberal party demands ‘high ambitions’ from Social Democrats

On December 6th, ongoing negotiations to form a government will tie the all-time record for Denmark’s longest ever with the 35-day negotiation of 1975.

But the Liberal party is still holding out for more concessions from Frederiksen and the Social Democrats, its leader Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said after another major party on the right, the Conservatives, quit the talks over the weekend.

“The Liberals will continue negotiations with the Social Democrats in the coming days,” Ellemann-Jensen wrote on Twitter.

“If the Liberals are to commit to an agreement with the Social Democrats – whether in opposition or in government – the content of that agreement should be above the usual level of political ambition,” he said.

Ellemann-Jensen has cited to changes to the top tax bracket as a party priority, though that’s been a non-starter for the Social Democrats. 

The Liberals also hope to lower inheritance tax as well as income taxes for Denmark’s most modest earners, newswire Ritzau reports.

The withdrawal of the Conservatives means the Liberals are the only party on the right who could realistically enter government with the Social Democrats.

Six of the 12 parties elected to parliament at the election now remain in government talks with the Social Democrats.

These are the Liberals, Liberal Alliance and Danish People’s Party from the ‘blue bloc’ and the Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) and Socialist People’s Party (SF), from the red bloc side. The centrist Moderates are the final party.

READ MORE: ‘Topskat’: What is Denmark’s high income tax bracket?

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