Friday, 16 September 2011

Female PM and end of right-wing rule in Denmark

Yesterday’s general election in Denmark turned out to be quite a thriller, but when all the votes had been counted it was clear that the right-wing coalition which has governed the country for ten years had been narrowly defeated by the centre-left opposition, with 50.3 % against 49.7 % of the votes, which translates into 89 seats in Parliament for the red block and 86 for the blue block. Consequently Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen an hour ago tendered his resignation to Queen Margrethe. He will be succeeded by the leader of the Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who will become the country’s first female Prime Minister, making this an historic hour.

The results of the election are:
- The Social Democrats: 24.9 % (-0.6), 44 seats (-1).
- The Socialist People’s Party: 9.2 % (-3.8), 16 seats (-7).
- The Danish Social Liberal Party: 9.5 % (+4.4), 17 seats (+8).
- The Red-Green Alliance: 6.7 % (+4.5), 12 seats (+8).
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- The Liberal Party: 26.7 % (+0.5), 47 seats (+1).
- The Danish People’s Party: 12.3 % (-1.6), 22 seats (-3).
- The Conservative Party: 4.9 % (-5.5), 8 seats (-10).
- The Liberal Alliance: 5 % (+2.2), 9 seats (+4).

Historically, Danish governments, whether of the left or the right, have “always” been dependent on the political centre. This changed dramatically in 2001, when the two right-wing parties the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party were able to form a majority with the far-right wing Danish People’s Party (DF). The latter did not formally become part of the government, but had a formalised agreement with the government which enabled them to demand political “payment” for parliamentary support. DF being an openly racist party (with Muslims and Germans singled out), this usually took the form of increasingly restrictive rules of immigration. Sadly the ten years of this unholy alliance have in many ways permanently changed the country’s political landscape, so that even parties in the red block now supports some of DF’s ideas.
Following the election Danish politics may seem set for a return to the more usual situation in that the two leading opposition parties, the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party, have entered into an agreement with the Danish Social Liberal Party (R), which belongs to the political centre.
However, the interesting - and complicating - factor is that while both the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party backed in the election, the red majority was salvaged by the increases of R and the far-left wing Red-Green Alliance. While R is considering joining the government, the Red-Green Alliance will remain outside, but provide parliamentary support. Obviously this will be at a price and it will be interesting to see the outcome as the four parties of the red block disagree on some significant issues.
Although Helle Thorning-Schmidt is celebrating today, her party actually achieved its worst election result since 1903. The Socialist People’s Party also did worse than expected, but will now become part of the government for the first time in its history.
Having received Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s resignation a short time ago, the Queen has, as is the custom, asked him to remain in charge of a caretaker government until a new cabinet has been formed. In what has been the custom since 1909 two representatives of each party will now go to the Queen (who this time has Crown Prince Frederik at her side) to advice her about who should be given the task of forming the new government. They will then point to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who will be entrusted with the task by the Queen and then start the negotiations with the other parties which will lead to the formation of the new government. How much time will be necessary for the negotiations remains to be seen, meaning that the day of the actual change of government has not yet been settled.
The incoming Prime Minister is 44 years old and joined the Social Democrats as late as in 1993. She was an MEP 1999-2004 and was elected to the Danish Parliament in 2005, only two months before becoming the party’s leader. Foreign readers may be interested in the fact that she is the daughter-in-law of Neil Kinnock, the former leader of the British Labour Party.
When Helle Thorning-Schmidt becomes Prime Minister Sweden will be the only Nordic country never to have had a female head of government.

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