Friday, 5 June 2009

Denmark to vote over succession change

Today is Denmark’s Constitution Day and on Sunday the country will hold a referendum about changing the Act of Succession, which aims at introducing gender-neutral succession to the throne. After 37 years of female rule time now seems ripe for Denmark to introduce full cognatic succession, yet it is uncertain if the plans to do so will succeed.
The bill was proposed to Parliament on 7 October 2008 by the government of the then Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Its first reading in Parliament was on 23 January this year, followed by the second reading on 17 February and the third on 24 February, at which 107 MPs voted in favour of the change, while 2 abstained. The government’s official website about the referendum:

In Denmark constitutional amendments must be subjected to a referendum, and at least 40 % of the electorate (not just 40 % of those participating in the election) will have to vote yes for the amendment to be passed. The referendum is held together with the elections to the European Parliament and while it seems beyond doubt that a majority will vote in favour of the amendment it seems less certain if the turnout for the election will be sufficient for passing the new Act of Succession. At the referendum about the current Act of Succession in 1953 it was a very close cut, with 45.76 % of the electorate voting in favour at a time when the limit was 45 %.
An opinion poll presented in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 9 May showed that 82.5 % of the respondents intend to take part in the referendum and that 87.9% of those will vote yes, while 6.6 % intend to vote no.

Another poll in Berlingske Tidende on 29 May showed that 84 % are in favour of the change.

If all those people intending to vote do indeed turn out, the amendment will be passed with a comfortable majority, but only 47.8 % of the electorate voted in the previous European Parliament election.
The government’s campaign has meanwhile been heavily criticised for being biased and too simplistic, which has caused some voices to be raised in favour of casting blank votes, including the editor-in-chief of the tabloid EkstraBladet today. Others have expressed their view that the referendum should have been held together with the next local elections rather than the European Parliament elections and some think that there should be larger reforms to the Constitution than just the succession. In recent days the debate about the referendum has also started to turn into a debate about the monarchy itself.

A new poll in Berlingske Tidende yesterday showed that support for the change had fallen dramatically in less than a week to 72 %, with 13 % intending to vote no and 9 % intending to cast blank votes. This means that if less than half the electorate takes part in the referendum the “magical limit” of 40 % will not be reached. The poll also shows that among those who will not vote in favour of the amendment 24 % do so because they are opposed to the change itself, 22 % because they are republicans, 25 % because they want wider constitutional reforms and 25 % for other reasons.

Another poll in Politiken yesterday showed a support for the amendment from 74 % of the 1,012 people interviewed, but also found that the percentage intending to vote against or cast a blank vote had risen from 10 to 26 %. (in English)

On 29 May Berlingske Tidende had an article where the historian Jon Bloch Skipper comments on the consequences for how the monarchy is viewed if the bill is not passed:

§ 2 of the current Act of Succession of 27 March 1953 says: “On the death of a King the throne shall pass to his son or daughter, a son taking precedence over a daughter, and where there are several children of the same sex the elder child taking precedence over the younger child. […]”.
Before 1953 only men could inherit the Danish throne. At the time King Frederik IX had three daughters and it seemed unlikely that he and Queen Ingrid would have more children. The heir presumptive was therefore the King’s younger brother, Prince Knud, who had two sons and a daughter. Following a referendum the new Act of Succession came into force on 5 June 1953 and meant that Princess Margrethe (now the Queen) replaced Prince Knud as heir to the throne.
The change in 1953 caused a rift between King Frederik and Prince Knud which was never healed. No such thing will happen this time; if the change is approved in Sunday’s referendum it will not affect any living persons. Queen Margrethe II has two sons; Crown Prince Frederik had first a son, then a daughter; while Prince Joachim has two sons from his first marriage and a son from his second. All these will keep their places, followed by the Queen’s sister Princess Benedikte and the Queen’s cousin Princess Elisabeth. But if the Crown Prince has another son, this prince will come after his older sister in the line of succession, rather than surpassing her as he would have done under the 1953 Act of Succession.
The second picture shows King Frederik IX’s signature on the Danish Constitution of 5 June 1953.

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