05/11/2007 - D-7
Around 4 million Danish citizens are eligible to vote in the upcoming general elections scheduled for November 13th. The government led by outgoing Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Liberal Party, V), can boast strong economic results: the World Economic Forum recently named Denmark the third most competitive country in the world behind the United States and Switzerland. However the kingdom has experienced some problems notably a lack of labour, notably in qualified areas which weighs heavy on production and may lead to high inflation rates. In addition to this the government is facing a dilemma: how can it improve the Welfare State to which the Danes, as all the populations in the North of Europe, are very much attached and yet keep its promise with regard to tax reductions? After the elections Anders Fogh Rasmussen would like to form a parliamentary majority without the People's Party (DF), a far right movement which has provided him with a Parliamentary majority for the last six years.
Just one week before the vote speculation about the future government coalition is rife; debate over various political programmes has been relegated to the background. Consequently Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and opposition leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Social Democratic Party SD) are finding it difficult to make their voices heard. The interest in the composition of the future government is linked to the debut of a new party in political spheres; New Alliance (Y), a centre-right party created on 7th May 2007 by Naser Khader and two MEPs Anders Samuelsen and Gitte Seeberg, is credited by some polls with 10 of the 179 seats in the Folketing, the only chamber in Parliament.
"We said that Anders Fogh Rasmussen was our first choice in forming a government. If he puts forward a programme similar to ours he will remain Prime Minister
," stressed Naser Khader on 31st October. Amongst the requests made by New Alliance are a more flexible asylum policy, tax reform (establishing a single tax rate on revenue), the enhancement of Denmark's position in the European Union and more development aid. The party's supporters are divided. Just under half (47%) want the outgoing Prime Minister to stay in office whilst 46% do not want him to stay. "This shows that our voters are on the same wave length as us and agree on the importance they have to give to content without rejecting anyone outright,
" maintains Anders Samuelsen.
Naser Khader is extremely critical about the Social Democratic Party's economic policy which he qualifies as "irresponsible". He criticises the attitude it adopted during the crisis over the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, a crisis which became the focus of the campaign after the People's Party used an electoral poster showing a drawing of the prophet bearing the slogan "the Freedom of expression is Danish, no censorship. We defend Danish values.
On 30th September 2005 the daily Jyllands Posten published 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad after the children's writer Kare Bluitgen complained about not being able to find illustrators for a book on the life of the Prophet since artists said they feared the reaction on the part of Muslim fundamentalists. These caricatures were the source of indignation on the part of some Muslims across the world and led to numerous demonstrations, both peaceful and violent. The Embassy of Denmark in Syria and the Danish Consulate in Beirut were set on fire.
"This poster is part of our electoral campaign focused on Danish values that we want to promote. Amongst these feature the gender equality, solidarity and the freedom of expression,
" maintained the People's Party leader, Pia Kjaersgaard in the newspaper Nyhedsavisen. When questioned about the usefulness of this type of action she answered, "and why can't we do it? Self-censorship is not a good thing.
Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the grand mufti of Jerusalem has asked the Danish government to adopt a stance with regard to this electoral poster. Mr Rasmussen refused immediately saying "this poster is only a political issue if the grand mufti sees that it is one.
" For his part Stig Moller, Foreign Affairs Minister (Conservative Party, KF) stresses that "I can say nothing and I have nothing to say. The government defends democracy and the freedom of expression. Limiting freedom of expression is the work of the judicial system."
Naser Khader, who was recruited by the Prime Minister during the caricatures scandal, is critical of Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, member of the Unity List (E), who on 13th November might become the first MP in Parliament to wear the veil. She refuses to shake hands with the men and has caused a stir in her party, some accusing her of not being clear on some subjects such as the death penalty, gender equality or the rights of homosexuals.
"Our aim is to break away from block type politics and reduce the influence of the far right
," repeats Naser Khader. Pia Kjaersgaard's hostility along with that of her party towards immigrants has become ugly and increasingly intolerable in the eyes of many Danes, notably amongst businessmen and company heads who know how much their country needs immigrants.
On 1st November last outgoing Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Helle Thorning-Schmidt met in a TV studio for their first electoral debate. According to a poll by Greens after the show 53% of the Danes believe that Anders Fogh Rasmussen should stay in office as Prime Minister in comparison with 36% who prefer to see Helle Thorning-Schmidt as head of government.
Like Naser Khader the latter would like to "see an end of block type politics,
" and has turned to the Conservative Party and New Alliance. "We share many values with the conservatives. They have a positive view of the State and we share the same views about educational, justice and foreign policies,
" she stressed. The Chairman of the Conservative Party, Bendt Bendtsen however declined the invitation to work together.
The opposition forces are also trying to focus attention on the role played by Denmark in the war in Iraq and are requesting the creation of a committee to investigate this question, a request supported by Naser Khader. In August Mr Rasmussen recalled 400 Danish soldiers who were still posted out in Iraq.
According to an opinion poll published by the Gallup Institute on October 31st, the Liberal Party (V) is set to take 86 of the 179 seats in the Folketing (parliament) on November 13th. The opposition forces – Social Democratic Party (SD), Social Liberal Party (RV), the Unity List and the Socialist People's Party (SF) poll at 79 seats, while the New Alliance comes in third with 10 seats
74% of the Danes say they have greater confidence in Mr Rasmussen's fiscal policy than in that of the Social Democrats. However with regard to the Welfare State, education and the environment, the opposition is believed to be more credible than the government. Can the social system be defended and public services improved and yet reduce taxes? The answer the Danes give to this question depends on the result of the elections on 13th November.