08/02/2005 - D-7
On 18th January last the head of the Danish government Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Liberal Party, V), called for early general elections on 8th February next asking the kingdom's four million voters to ‘renew and extend' his government's mandate. In explanation of the early elections the Prime Minister emphasised the dangers of a convergence of the general elections, initially planned to take place in November with the local elections that are to be held on 15th November. Nevertheless it appears that the advantage his party enjoys in the opinion polls convinced Anders Fogh Rasmussen not to wait too long before bringing his mandate into play again.
The Danish Political System
The Folketing, the single Chamber of Parliament comprises 179 members who are elected for four years by proportional representation according to the Sainte-Lagüe method. Voters are authorised to indicate their choice on a list presented by the political party they want to vote for.
The provinces of Greenland and the Faeroe Isles each have two representatives.
The other 175 seats are distributed across three regions: Copenhagen, Jutland and the islands. These three regions are then divided into three urban and seven rural constituencies. The number of seats allocated to each of the constituencies is proportional to the number of inhabitants and is reviewed every five years. The calculation undertaken (addition of the population, the number of voters at the last election and the surface area of the constituency in square kilometres multiplied by 20, the result of this is then divided by 175) favours the regions where the population is low.
One hundred and thirty five of the 175 are constituency seats, forty of them are compensatory seats. The compensatory seats make it possible to guarantee the parties that have risen beyond a certain threshold with a national representation. However in order to accede to the distribution of compensatory seats a party must have won a minimum of seats in a constituency or a number of votes that is either higher or equal to the number of votes necessary to win a seat in at least two of the three regions in the kingdom, or at least 2% of the votes cast nationally. The distribution of seats is undertaken in two stages, firstly by party and then by candidate.
The principles of the election of representatives are written into the Danish Constitution of 1953.
At present seven political parties are represented in Parliament.
- The Liberal Party (V) led by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has 56 seats;
- The Social Democrat Party (SD), led by Mogens Lyketoft, the main opposition party has 52 seats;
- The Radical Liberal Party (RV), supports the government coalition and has 9 seats;
- The Conservative Party (KF), member of the government has 16 representatives;
- The People's Party (DF), extreme rightwing supports the government coalition in Parliament and has 22 seats;
- The Popular Socialist Party (SF), an opposition party that has 12 seats;
- The Unity List (E), rallies the Reds-Greens has 4 seats.
Both representatives of the opposition parties on the left from Greenland (Community Spirit, IA and Forwards S) and the representatives of the Equality Party (TF) from the Faeroe Islands created a North Atlantic group in December 2001 that is politically unaligned. The second representative from the Faeroe Islands (People's Party, FF) is linked to the Liberal Party.
The Government's Results
"The government has kept the promises it made to the voters. We have tightened up on the immigration policy as promised in the last elections and we shall not ease up on this point. The number of residence permits granted to refugees and immigrants has been reduced by half, even by a third since 2001," declared Prime Minister Rasmussen recently. "The immigration policy we wish to maintain enjoys wide, strong support by the population. It has enabled us to save Danish society 4 billion crowns (530 million euros) per year in comparison with the policy undertaken by the Social Democrats and the Radicals," he added.
The Head of Government also promised, if he won, to invest, as a priority over the next four years, in sectors such as research, the family and health as well as to maintain the block on any rises in taxation, a measure that has been applied for the last three years. "We must help families with children since they are helping to guarantee the future of the kingdom. We must maintain a strict immigration policy, continue the block on taxes, show more respect and compassion towards the old and have more hospitals," maintained Mr Rasmussen. Finally although the Prime Minister said that he wanted to maintain his alliance with the Conservative Party he again rejected any idea of an alliance with the People's Party. For his part, the leader of the extreme rightwing party, Pia Kjaersgaard said that he wanted to "increase the influence" his party had on the programme undertaken by the two parties in the government coalition.
The Iraq War
The Social Democrat Party, a traditional defender of the Welfare State, a theme on which its Conservative adversaries have focussed, is trying to mobilise voters on the involvement of Danish soldiers in Iraq, which most of the kingdom's population are hostile to. The Social Democrats say they are in favour of a withdrawal of Danish troops from Iraq at the beginning of June, ie at the end of their mandate. There are five hundred and twenty five Danish soldiers in Iraq at the moment, five hundred of whom are in Bassorah under British command. "I am in favour of the withdrawal of our contingent at the end of its mandate at the beginning of June since we cannot continue to take part in something that many Iraqi's consider to be an army of occupation," declared Mogens Lyketoft, president of the Social Democrat Party, during an electoral duel with the Prime Minister. The PSD would like to replace the soldiers with civil and humanitarian aid in order to support Iraq on its way towards democracy. The opposition leader also made a point of saying that if he were elected, "Denmark will never take part in a war against Iraq that the Secretary General of the UN qualified as illegal. We shall never commit the same error that Anders Fogh Rasmussen committed by entering a war without the UN's mandate and thereby breaking up European cohesion. We shall not follow the USA blindly as the present government has done. We shall be a critical ally," declared Mogens Lyketoft.
For his part the Prime Minister indicated that "Denmark will take an independent decision about its forces in Iraq but in consultation with our American and British coalition allies. Terrorists must not decide on our withdrawal. No one must doubt that our objective is for the Iraqi's to be masters of their country and that the foreign troops will leave the country including the Danish soldiers," he added. On 27th January Anders Fogh Rasmussen was prevented to the cries of ‘murderer' and ‘liar' from holding an electoral meeting by protesters against the military intervention in Iraq. On 28th January last, three hundred artists, producers, musicians and writers signed a petition calling for the withdrawal of Danish forces from Iraq, accusing the political parties of leaving the Iraq war out of the electoral campaign.
Opinion polls reveal that most of the Danes are in favour of a withdrawal of their troops from Iraq. According to a survey by Gallup undertaken between 18th and 20th January and published on the 27th of the same month, two thirds of those interviewed said they were in favour of a withdrawal (63%). Four Danes in ten (41%) believe it is necessary to settle a date to end the contingent's assignment, 22% believe that the troops must leave Iraq immediately with one third believing that they must stay until they are no longer needed (34%). Foreign Affairs Minister, Per Stig Möller, did however reject any idea of an immediate withdrawal of the Danish contingent including the establishment of a date to end the assignment now. "We do not think that the Danish soldiers should stay there forever either. But if we set a date for the end of our involvement or if we withdraw now we shall simply providing the rebels and terrorists with the grounds to continue their attacks against the construction of a democratic Iraq," he emphasised.
The involvement of the Imam.
The electoral campaign was disrupted at the end of January by the intervention by Muslim religious leaders who publicly advised their followers to "vote justly", that is in favour of the parties that "respect immigrants" and "who want Danish troops to withdraw from Iraq". The Prime Minister immediately issued a warning to the Imam. "In Denmark, religion and politics are separate and it would be unwise for religious leaders to advise their congregations to vote for specific political parties. Pastors do not use the Church for purposes of political agitation. The Imam should not do it either," declared Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The Social Democrat Party rejected the implicit support of the Imam lamenting their involvement in the political debate. "This shows that they have understood nothing about living in a democratic society," believes the party's spokesperson, Anne-Marie Meldgaard. We should remember that Islam is the kingdom's second religion after Lutheran Protestantism, a religion that is included in the Constitution. Denmark has about 170,000 Muslims, i.e. 3% of the population.
According to the latest opinion polls the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the People's Party are to come out ahead in the upcoming general elections winning around one hundred of the 179 seats in the Folketing versus 70 for the Social Democrat Party and the Popular Socialist Party. The poll undertaken by Gallup and published on 26th January grants the majority to the present government (V-KF-DF) with 102 seats in Parliament (versus 94 at present) and the opposition (SD-SF) with 73 representatives (versus 64 in the Folketing at present). However nearly one quarter of the electorate said they were still undecided (22.4%) of which a great majority are women; they vote in greater numbers than the men in favour of the Social Democrats. Finally, and this result is the one that probably says the most ; according to a survey undertaken by the Megafon institute three quarters of the Danes (75%) believe that is ‘unlikely' or ‘highly unlikely' that there will be victory on the part of the opposition in these early general elections versus 19% who believe the contrary.
Reminder of the General Election Results 20th November 2001
Participation rate: 89,3%
Source Agence France-Presse