Election cockies. PHOTO: Lomfise/Flickr

Election Denmark after the Election

While the centre-left as expected won the Danish election on 15 September 2011, the victory turned out to be much narrower than predicted and the two main parties of the Left, the Social Democrats (S) and SF both lost votes compared with the 2007 election.

Published on balticworlds.com on October 5, 2011

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While the centre-left as expected won the Danish election on 15 September 2011, the victory turned out to be much narrower than predicted and the two main parties of the Left, the Social Democrats (S) and SF both lost votes compared with the 2007 election. At 24.8% and 44 seats the Social Democrats recorded their worst performance at a general election since the introduction of proportional representation and the Liberal Party (V) surprisingly kept the position as the largest party in the Folketing with 26.7% of the vote and 47 seats, a slight increase compared with the 2007 election.

The main winners of the election were the smaller parties of the centre-left, the centrist Social Liberal Party (RV) with 9.5% and the leftist Red-Green Alliance (EL) with 6.7% of the vote. This meant that the Social Liberals nearly doubled their number of seats from 9 to 17 while the Red-Greens trebled their number of seats in the new Folketing from 4 to 12. Equally worth noting, the party’s main spokesman, Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen received 47.000 personal votes and was only surpassed by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen with 56.000 personal votes.

Among the parties to the right, the libertarian Liberal Alliance won 5.0% and 9 seats, a major success for the party and its leader Anders Samuelsen after the party during 2009 had polled 0.0% in several polls following the collapse of its predecessor, New Alliance in early 2008. The Danish People’s Party(DF) recorded its first losses at a general election with 12.3% of the vote and 22 seats but still remains a significant presence in the Folketing, while the Conservative Party (KF) suffered a humiliating defeat after winning only 4.8% of the vote and 8 seats, making it the smallest party in the new Folketing. The result was also the party’s worst in a national election since it was formed in 1918.

Behind the wins and losses were a complicated pattern of voter movements with the Social Liberals, Social Democrats and SF winning voters from the Liberals and DF while the Social Democrats and SF at the same time lost voters to the Red-Greens. Disappointed Conservative voters mostly reacted by moving to the Liberals and Liberal Alliance while the party only lost few votes to the Social Liberals.

The result means that the four parties of the centre-left command 89 seats in the new Folketing against 86 seats for the right. Of the four North Atlantic MPs, three support the left and one the right. Following a round of consultations with the parties, Queen Margrethe commissioned Helle Thorning-Schmidt to lead negotiations about the formation of a new government. As expected, talks soon concentrated on the possibility of a three-party minority coalition of Social Democrats, Social Liberals and SF.

The talks were complicated by the fact that the Social Liberals opposed central parts of the economic and labour market policies presented in the common manifesto presented by Social Democrats and SF before the election. While the Social Democrats and SF wanted to roll back the reforms of the Early Retirement Benefit and unemployment benefits agreed in 2010 and 2011 with the votes of the Social Liberals and increase taxes on high-earners, the Social Liberals wanted to cut marginal tax rates and confirm the reform of the Early Retirement Benefit. There were also disagreements about immigration policy with the Social Liberals calling for more wide-ranging liberalisations than the Social Democrats and SF would agree to.

The three parties also had to take into account that a left-wing government with or without the Social Liberals in practice would rely on the support of the Red-Greens which were closer to S and SF in economic and labour market policy and the Social Liberals in immigration policy. The weak performance of the Conservatives in the election meant that the possibility of a majority of S, SF, RV and KF, which had been a topic of discussion during the campaign, had disappeared.

Following two weeks of negotiations, Helle Thorning-Schmidt was finally able to announce that the three parties had agreed on a government programme with S and SF giving a number of concessions to RV on economic policy with RV accepting the main lines of the immigration policies proposed by S and SF. The programme includes proposals to bring forward a number of infrastructure investments but keeps tight limits to general public expenditures. The government will also pass the reform of the Early Retirement Benefit, which was agreed, by the Social Liberals, DF and the outgoing government. With regard to European policy, the government has signalled that it wants a referendum on two of the Danish opt-outs, Justice and Home Affairs and Foreign and Security Policy, during the coming term while full Danish membership of the EMU will not be put to a referendum. The controversial permanent controls at the Danish borders will be abandoned in favour of other ways of strengthening customs controls. The three parties also propose liberalisations in refugee and immigration policy, e.g. by easing some of the rules covering family reunions. The “24-year-rule” denying spouses under the age of 24 the right to permanent residence in Denmark will stay in force, though.

The final phase of negotiations was marked by an unexpected scandal as it was announced that the Danish Intelligence Service would not grant leading Social Democrat Henrik Sass Larsen who had been expected to take up the position of Finance Minister a security clearance due to contacts to criminals in his hometown of Køge. Sass Larsen resigned from the Social Democratic front bench but remains aMP.

On 3 October 2011, Helle Thorning-Schmidt as Denmark’s first female Prime Minister finally presented her government which includes 11 Social Democratic, 6 Social Liberal and 6 SF Ministers. Social Liberal leader Margrethe Vestager takes up the position as Minister for Economic Planning and Local Government while SF leader Villy Søvndal becomes Foreign Minister. Among the notable appointments are Social Democratic newcomer Bjarne Corydon as Finance Minister and Thor Möger Petersen, the deputy chairman of SF, as Minister for Taxation. At 26, Möger Petersen becomes Denmark’s youngest minister ever. The former mayor of Aarhus, Nicolai Wammen, who had otherwise been expected to take up a central portfolio in the new government, was appointed Minister for European Affairs, an appointment that is generally seen as a snub to the ambitious politician.

After a decade as the pivotal party in Danish politics, DF is likely to have a relatively marginal position in the new Folketing, even if the party theoretically could provide the government with a parliamentary majority as an alternative to relying on the Red-Greens. The Social Liberals, in particular, will oppose moves toward a regular cooperation between the government and DF on economic policy as well as immigration policy. On the other hand, DF will try to keep immigration policy on the political agenda in an attempt to expose differences between the centre-left parties and attract some of the voters lost to the Social Democrats and SF. This also means that there are limits to how far S and SF can go in accommodating Social Liberal and Red-Green demands on immigration policy.

Election results (Share of the votes/seats)

  November 2007 September 2011 Changes
Social Democrats 22.5 45 24.4 44 -0.6 -1
SF 13.0 23 9.2 16 -3.8 -7
Red-Green Alliance 2.0 4 6.7 12 +4.5 +8
Social Liberal Party 5.1 9 9.5 17 +4.4 +8
Liberal Party 26.2 46 26.7 47 +0.5 +1
Conservative Party 10.4 18 4.9 8 -5.5 -10
Danish People’s Party 13.9 25 12.3 22 -1.6 -3
Liberal Alliance 2.8 5 5.0 9 +2.2 +4
Christian Democrats 0.9 0 0.8 0 -0.1 0

The four North Atlantic seats are not included in this table.

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