13/11/2007 - Analysis
The Danes are being called to renew the Folketing (Parliament) in the early general elections that will take place on 13th November. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Liberal Party, V) announced solemnly on 24th October in Parliament that his government would not resign during the electoral campaign. With this election he says he wants to "put an end to the amount of speculation about these early elections that may destroy the work achieved by Parliament over the next few months." "Major decisions need to be taken in this parliamentary session. In our opinion speculation is bad for work and the stability of the present parliamentary assembly." The election should have taken place by February 2009 at the latest. "In the Prime Minister's opinion this is the best time to hold the elections and as far as the opposition is concerned it is the worst," says political analyst and former Conservative Party leader, (KF), Hans Engell.
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. To be able to put forward lists in the general elections all parties have to be represented in Parliament when the election is held. If this is not the case a number of signatures has to be collated corresponding to 1/175th of the votes declared valid during the last general elections.
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 included in the Danish Constitution of 1953.
At present eight political parties are represented in Parliament.
- The Liberal Party (V), a majority party led by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has 52 seats;
- The Social Democratic Party (SD), the main opposition party led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt since 2005 has 47 seats;
- The People's Party (DF), extreme rightwing led by Pia Kjaersgaard supports the government coalition in Parliament and has 23 seats;
- The Conservative Party (KF), member of the government coalition and led by Bendt Bendtsen with 18 seats;
- The Social Liberal Party (RV), leftwing opposition party on the left led by Marghrethe Vestager who succeeded Marianne Jelved on 15th June last has 17 MPs;
- The People's Socialist Party (SF), an opposition party rallying socialists and ecologists, led by Villy Sovndal with 11 seats;
- The Unity List (E), results from the alliance of the Communist Party (DKP), the Socialist Workers' Party (SA) and the Socialist Left (VS). The party does not have a leader but is managed by an executive committee of 25 people. It has 6 MPs.
- The Centre Democrats has one MP, Louise Frevert, elected on 8th February 2005 on the lists of the People's Party (DF).
Issues at Stake in the General Elections
Anders Fogh Rasmussen has led the Danish government since November 2001 when he won his first ever general election. He leads a minority government comprising liberal and conservative ministers enjoying the support of the People's Party which guarantees him a parliamentary majority. "Since 2001 the Danes have experienced a period of progress and stability with a record level of employment and a very low level of unemployment," recalled the Prime Minister on 24th October launching an appeal to the electorate: "The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party are standing together in the elections with a joint appeal to the electorate to renew their confidence and the government's mandate." In reality the Head of Government is trying to bring together a parliamentary majority via these early general elections without the support of the far right, a cumbersome ally who is holding up the reform of the Welfare State and the application of a more humane immigration policy. Anders Fogh Rasmussen says however that he is "open to all parties that want to co-operate with the government."
To succeed in forming a new majority independent of the People's Party, Anders Fogh Rasmussen is investing great hope in the new political centre-right party, New Alliance, created on 7th May 2007 by the extremely popular Naser Khader and the MEPs Anders Samuelsen and Gitte Seeberg. "Many people would like to see a more centrist government in power but they do not want a red government in the same way as they reject such influence on the part of the Danish People's Party over our political life," repeats Naser Khader who leads the party. New Alliance is fighting for an improved integration of immigrants, the enhancement of Denmark's position in the European Union and the establishment of a single income tax (40%). "The New Alliance borrows ideas from the Conservative and the Social Democratic Party. It has a good chance of winning seats in Parliament," says Professor Jorgen Elklit of the University of Aarhus.
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen can be proud of his socio-economic results. Denmark is one of the strongest economies in the European Union. Its unemployment level (3.3% of the working population) is the lowest ever recorded in 33 years and its exports rose by 11.5% in 2006. Like its Nordic neighbours Denmark is one of the most competitive economies established by the World Economic Forum. Denmark owes its economic success in the main to its flexicurity system, lauded by a number of economists beyond the national borders, which funded by heavy taxes, is a combination of employment flexibility and dismissal with generous unemployment allocations and the obligation for the unemployed to accept work offered to them under the threat of sanctions if they refuse.
However some storm clouds have been accumulating over the last few months. Growth, which lay at 3.5% in 2006 is due to drop since the kingdom is lacking in labour, notably in qualified areas which is causing a decline in production. Likewise the dangers of inflation are increasing. In addition to this Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was elected in November 2001 and re-elected in February 2005 on the promise that he would not increase taxes, must now battle against the social democrat opposition which is accusing him of sacrificing the Welfare State. The Prime Minister has to convince voters that he really is the best defender of the social system and that it is possible both to reduce taxes and improve public services. In order to demonstrate how unfounded the accusations are the Prime Minister appointed social democrat Karen Jespersen as Social Affairs Minister. But Anders Fogh Rasmussen also has to deal with his political partners: the Conservative Party, a supporter of tax reductions on the highest salaries (60% at present), and the People's Party which stands as the defender of the poorest and of a strong Welfare State.
The government announced a plan which included an annual tax reduction of 10 billion crowns (1.34 billion euros) from 2008 on as part of the fight against the lack of labour force. To reduce the dangers of inflation tax reductions will be compensated for in part by an increase in energy taxes. At the same time public spending is due to increase by 1.8% in 2007 and by 1.7% in 2008. The government indicated that it was going to invest 50 billion crowns (6.7 billion euros) over the next ten years in healthcare, schools and the care of the elderly; 10 additional billion will be dedicated to training employees in the public sector. "We shall not take one crown away from the Welfare State," repeats the Prime Minister.
The polls show that the Danes, including supporters of the liberal forces are not in favour of reducing taxes if this is to the detriment of public services. According to a survey by Synovate and published on 3rd September by the on-line weekly Mandag Morgen, 67% say they are prepared to pay extra taxes to improve public services.
In December negotiations will start with regard to salaries between the government and the unions in the public sector.
The defence of the Welfare State is one of the major themes in the opposition's campaign. "The Prime Minister is tired and the people has had enough of a government that is unable to rise to the major challenges such as improving the Welfare State, reducing social inequalities and problems caused by global warming," maintains Social Democratic leader, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The opposition party is promising to increase public spending by 12.2 billion crowns (1.6 billion euros). "We are offering you a better Welfare State and we say "NO" to tax reductions because it is impossible to have both tax reductions and a better Welfare State," stresses Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
The opposition is also fighting against the government's immigration policy and notably for the defence of Iraqis who are living in difficult conditions in refugee centres since they cannot be sent home. A recent report revealed that children of asylum seekers who had been rejected were suffering psychological problems due to the length of time they had spent in refugee camps. Human Rights defence organisations and several members of the Liberal Party together with the opposition have been demanding an improvement in the living conditions of these children and their parents.
Although he has always been against the measure on 23rd October last the Prime Minister suggested that rejected refugees with children should be accommodated outside of the camps and that the children should be sent to school. The People's Party rejected the proposal. "The general elections will clear the atmosphere," said the party's chairperson Pia Kjaersgaard.
With these early general elections Anders Fogh Rasmussen has relegated the issue of a possible referendum on the Reform Treaty of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community adopted on 18th October last by the 27 Heads of State and Government of the European Union in Lisbon. The Prime Minister declared that the government would not decide before December (official signature of the treaty) about whether there would be a popular consultation as requested by the opposition forces. The Prime Minister also announced that the Reform Treaty would be presented to the Folketing at the beginning of 2008. Experts will have the task of saying whether a treaty would lead to a transfer of Denmark's sovereignty over to the European Union. According to a poll published on 11th October by the newspaper Berlingske Tidende, 54% of the Danes say they want a referendum on the new European treaty.
According to a poll by Gallup that was published on 24th October for the daily Berlingske Tidende, Anders Fogh Rasmussen's government is due to be re-elected on 13th November. A survey by Catinet Research published on 14th October also credited the Liberal Party-Conservative Party-People's party alliance with 49.9% of the vote versus 42.2% for the opposition forces. New Alliance is due to win 6.9% and would not be in a position to influence the composition of the next government nor to compete against the People's Party to form a parliamentary majority.
The short electoral campaign will therefore be decisive since the distance between the liberals in power and the leftwing opposition is at its shortest in six years.
Reminder of the General Election Results - 8th February 2005 - Denmark