Denmark’s election could pave the way for a centrist government

COPENHAGEN – Denmark’s election on Tuesday is expected to change the political landscape, with new parties hoping to enter parliament and others seeing their support wane. The former prime minister, who left his party to form a new one this year, could become head of state and his votes will be needed to form a new government.

Neither the center-left nor the center-right are likely to win a majority of 90 seats in the 179-seat Folketing. That could leave former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen in a leading role as he seeks to overcome the centre.

Announcing the election in October – seven months before the end of her four-year term – Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she wanted a “broad government with parties on both sides of the political middle”. She stressed that Denmark — like the rest of Europe — is going through tough times, and lawmakers need to come together.

The announcement came as her minority ally, the one-party Social Democratic government, threatened to oust Frederiksen in a confidence vote. Center-left social liberals have criticized her government’s handling of a 2020 decision to cull Denmark’s entire captive mink population amid the coronavirus pandemic to protect humans from mutating the virus.

The culling led to a strong controversy and the resignation of the minister. The necessary legislation was passed more than a month after the culling began, and a commission appointed by parliament eventually criticized the government, saying Frederiksen had “grossly misled”.

Frederiksen said she did not know the culling decision was illegal, but the Social Liberal Party kept its ultimatum: hold new elections or face a confidence vote.

On Tuesday, more than 4 million voters in the small Nordic country of the European Union can choose from 14 parties. The campaign was dominated by internal topics, ranging from tax cuts and the need to hire more nurses to financially supporting Danes amid inflation and skyrocketing energy prices due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The mink problem disappeared as soon as the agitation began. Also missing from the debate is immigration, once a key political issue in Denmark on which the main political parties now largely agree, said Kasper Møller Hansen, a professor of political science at the University of Copenhagen. In recent decades, Denmark has adopted some of the strictest immigration laws in the EU.

At least three politicians are running for the post of prime minister. They include Frederiksen, who has led Denmark through the COVID-19 pandemic and allied with the opposition to increase Denmark’s defense spending after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and two center-right opposition lawmakers, Jakob Eleman-Jensen, the leader of the Liberals. , and Søren Pape Poulsen, who leads the Conservatives.

Former Liberal leader Løkke Rasmussen lost to Frederiksen in 2019 and formed his new centrist party in June. According to polls, his moderates could win up to 10% of the vote. He hinted that he could see a governing coalition with the Social Democrats and could also be considered as a prime ministerial candidate.

Denmark was last governed by a centrist coalition in 1978, when the Social Democrats joined forces with the Liberals. This lasted for eight months.

The center-right bloc includes populist, anti-immigration parties.

Among them are the Danish Democrats, created in June by the hard-line former immigration minister Inger Steiberg. In 2021, Steiberg was convicted by a rarely used impeachment trial for ordering the separation of asylum-seeking couples in 2016 when one partner was a minor.

She has served her 60 days and is now eligible to run again. Pollsters say her party could get around 7% support. That could threaten the once-powerful populist, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, which has been torn apart by internal disputes in recent months and hovers around the 2 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. In 2015, the party won 21.1% of the vote.

The Danish People’s Party, which played a key role as Denmark tightened immigration laws, has seen its leaders leave to join Steiberg’s party or simply leave politics. Her party is similar to another, the small nationalist, anti-immigration New Right party, which is already in parliament. They called for a broad center-right government.

The social liberals, who gave an ultimatum to Frederiksen, may lose support mainly because voters do not trust the party. Its leader, Sophie Karsten Nielsen, said the party would eventually back Frederiksen as prime minister, a statement she struggled to explain.

Møller Hansen believes that after the election, the negotiations on the formation of a new Danish government will take some time.

“I believe we will again see a minority government in Denmark that will seek support from the left on climate issues and from the right when it comes to immigration,” he said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, copied or distributed without permission.

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