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Denmark went to the polls on Thursday, and it ended in a narrow left wing victory, ending 10 years of conservative government.

The result is not likely to fundamentally alter the country's very tight immigration policy, but the immigrant bashing seems to have left centre stage. Politics is back to being about the economy.

Social Democrat Helle Thorning Schmidt will be the next prime minister - and the first woman on the post - but she will have to govern on four parties spanning from the somewhat libertarian social liberals to the very left wing Unity list. This will be no easy task.

Just as significantly the election handed the first defeat to the far right Danish Peoples Party, and will also leave the party pretty marginalised.

First a little bit about the Danish political system.

All citizens are automatically registered to vote, and turnout is traditionally high. This time it went even higher than usual and ended at a whopping 87 percent.

The seats in parliament are distributed proportionally according to the nationwide vote among all parties getting over the 2 percent threshold. This has brougt no less than 8 parties into parliament - the same as last time - and coalition making and political compromises are a national art form.

On a general note it must also be said than with the exception of immigration policy the political centre is well to the left of America. The tax burden is the heaviest in the world (about 50%), and there is little questioning of public health care, subsidized daycare for kids, free universities etc. The government cutting back an early retirement scheme and shortening the unemployment benefit period from 4 to 2 years has been major issues though.

The outgoing government under Lars Løkke Rasmussen has been a coalition of his Venstre (a liberal party in the European sense of the word - tax-weary, business friendly and tightening social services) together with the conservatives. But the coalition has been a minority dependent on the far right Danish Peoples Party, which is very populist, also to some extent on economic issues. The party has pulled the debate on immigration very far to the right and into outright nastiness, especially on an anti-islamic rhetoric. On their initiative the current government has tightened immigration laws to the extreme, getting it hard to get foreign spouses into the country, even for citizens.

In the election Lars Løkke Rasmussen actually managed a small gain and kept the status as the largest party at 26.7 percent. But the coalition conservatives has positively imploded after several rounds of infighting, lost more than half of their votes, landing at their worst result since WWII - only 4,9 percent. And for the first time since it was born in the late 1995 the Danish Peoples Party has lost seats - and were not able to dominate the campaign.

Economy has. When the economic crisis hit in 2008 the economy had been roaring ahead for more than a decade. Unemployment was down to 1,4 percent, public budgets had had solid surpluses for years and the trade balance was flashing green. But this boom had also created wages running ahead of the neighboring countries and a housing bubble that the government had foolishly inflated by loosening lending regulations.

So the crisis has hit relatively hard and the country has not really been able to get back on the growth track like, even though neighboring Sweden and Germany have had decent bounce back booms. Public budgets are back in the red, and unemployment, though still low by international standards, has more than tripled. Both the housing and the labor market is very slow.

So in the end a narrow majority has chosen the opposition, but the internal shift of seats in the left wing bloc has been no less dramatic.

The social democrats, which will head the government, actually lost a bit and landed at their worst since the war too - 24,9 percent. As many of the old european labor parties it has continued its downward trend, as its traditional voter demographic is vanishing. Precincts like my own in one of the classic working class neighborhoods in central Copenhagen, would a few decades ago have delivered 60 % + results for the party, but now relegates it to third place and less than 20 %. Much of the remaining working class especially in the housing projects in the suburbs have also been veering off to the Danish Peoples Party, promting the social democrats to promise to largely leave the tight immigration party in place, killing the issue, but at the price of continuing a policy that is on the verge of breaking human rights and definatly far off any decency.

The likely coalition party to the left of them, the socialist peoples party, has tied itself closely to the social democrats, and this will bring them in government for the first time ever. But the tagging to the right has cost dearly in votes and the party took a drubbing by the voters.

So the coalition will be dependent on both the far left in the Unity List and the social liberals. Both parties have had a very good election, especially in the cities - for the Unity List far the best ever, and from election after election just making the 2 percent threshold, they have more than tripled.

The social liberals are actually economically quite right wing, but is to the left of the social democrats on social issues, including immigration, environment, education etc., and that has landed them firmly in the left wing camp. They might join the government, if a coalition agreement can be reached.

The new government will likely do part of the policy across the aisle, but on some issues they will be dependent on the far left in order to survive.

So amongst the four parties economically two are mainstream left wing economically, one is far left to the point of wanting nationalisations and one wants tax cuts in the top end bracket. On the other hand two want to loosen immigration policy, the leading party is terrified by the issue and won't touch it and one has just paid dearly at the ballot box for accepting this.

It will not be smooth sailing...

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Comment Preferences

  •  Norway too (5+ / 0-)

    In closely-related news, in the Norwegian local elections two days ago, Norway's anti-immigration party Fremskrittspartiet (the Progress Party.. not to be confused with actual progressive politics) took a major blow, losing about 1/3 of their votes. (Their association with Breivik no doubt soils them, but I actually think the Danish People's Party are somewhat more extreme)

    So we now have Social Democrats in coalition in Norway, Denmark and Finland, and perhaps the tides have finally started to turn for the anti-immigration populists.

    Random bit of European-left trivia.. I didn't know before today that Thorning-Schmidt's husband is Stephen Kinnock - son of Neil Kinnock, the old UK Labour Party leader!

  •  wow, good luck to the new PM. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mariken, millwood, supercereal

    I can be a bit prouder of my ancient Danish heritage today.

    I changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate, perhaps that's what no one wants to see. -6.38, -4.15

    by James Allen on Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 04:28:46 PM PDT

  •  Good diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    millwood, Mariken, supercereal

    And good news.

    Germany is also tagging left... even more so than Denmark.

    France, as well.

    We may yet get rising taxes for wealthy across the boards in Europe some time soon.

    "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

    by Lawrence on Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 04:41:00 PM PDT

    •  Are you referring to local elections (0+ / 0-)

      in Germany ?

      "Walking into someone's diary is like walking into someone's home. You are a guest. Act accordingly." Kos

      by Mariken on Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 04:57:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  State elections. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        supercereal

        The current, conservative neo-liberal ruling coalition is basically done.  They're still going through the motions, but they're basically over.

        The FDP is about to get kicked out of the state parliament in Berlin on Sunday.  :D

        "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

        by Lawrence on Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 05:06:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  thanks for the information! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mariken, Lawrence

    Denmark is one of my favorite places, and I have visited there for decades.(once for eight months - they had to ask me to leave!) It is especially a healing place to go when regressive politics drive me crazy here. Right now I can't go there but I have some frequent flyer miles stored up for when I can go to see friends. Til lykke!

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/lightningtreedesigns

    by Chun Yang on Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 04:45:49 PM PDT

  •  Very fine diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lawrence, Liberal Of Limeyland

    I was really impressed with the high turn-out, 87%.

    And good luck to Helle Thorning Schmidt. From what I read today, Denmark has the mix of an unemployment problem and deficit problem that so many countries have now and which is not so easy to handle. I read the Social Democrats has suggested to increase the socalled "work week" from 37 to 38 hours.

    And the shift to the left on immigration issues appears to have been even stronger in Denmark than in Norway, because not only did the anti-immigration Danish People´s Party lose support, two very liberal immigration parties gained. But then again, Denmark was extremely to the right on this issue in the first place.

    (On a sidenote, I also read that some islamists in Denmark caused problems by trying to discourage Muslims from voting).

    "Walking into someone's diary is like walking into someone's home. You are a guest. Act accordingly." Kos

    by Mariken on Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 04:54:26 PM PDT

    •  Political participation among minorities (0+ / 0-)

      has actually been one of the few successes in the integration of immigrants and their children.

      Who exactly gets elected will not be clear until personal votes are counted in the coming days, but IIRC the outgoing parliament had 5 members of muslim background, and that is probably pretty close to the percentage of the population eligible to vote (citizens). The representation on local level, where immigrants can vote after some years, is even better, and polls show that young descendents vote in numbers roughly equal to their Danish peers.

      So yes, the extreme group hizb-ut-tahrir did launch a campaign against democracy, vandalising posters of muslim candidates and there were also instances of outright harassment. This is very worrying but it is also clear that even within the muslim community this is a very marginal group.

      As for the turnout it was actually 87,7 - i missed the decimal...

  •  Could the centre-left now surge? (0+ / 0-)

    Much has been said about the decline of the European left, but this could be the beginning of a resurgence. We must remember that when the last big economic crisis, the Great Depression, hit, the immediate beneficiaries in many countries was the right and often the far right.

    I'm not sure where I'd fit into the Danish political spectrum as they are significantly to Britain's left, however the decline in influence of the odious so-called "Peoples" Party's influence must be a great weight off the Danish peoples' shoulders.

    •  Yes it is a true relief (0+ / 0-)

      Though they still managed 12,3 % - a loss of 1,5.

      What is interesting is that they have lost moderately all over the country, both in their traditional strongholds and in the inner cities where they were always struggling.

      A few of the other parties saw very large regional differencies in their gains and losses.

  •  Please explain: (0+ / 0-)
    continuing a policy that is on the verge of breaking human rights and definatly far off any decency

    As far as I can see, Danish immigration rates aren't much different than they have been since the 1970's.
    BTW, I'm an immigrant to Scandinavia. The immigration procedure was not easy, but I'd be uncomfortable with characterizing it as "far from any decency."

    "Our answer is more democracy, more openness, more humanity." ~Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg

    by Andhakari on Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 09:25:32 PM PDT

    •  Immigration has shifted very much (0+ / 0-)

      from third world refugees and poverty migrants to students and highly skilled workers.

      I don't know which Scandinavian country you are in, but the difference in this matter from Denmark to say Sweden couldn't be bigger.

      As for the tampering with human rights I mean sending asylum seekers back to torture regimes like Syria, where just the fact that you have tried escaping will land you in trouble, and not least the barriers to getting residency permits to spouses, especially if you are not native Danish, which I think is actually breaking the right to family life.

      •  I'm in Norway. (0+ / 0-)

        As I understand it, the Danish changed their immigration law several years ago ostensibly to discourage forced marriages - the 24 year old limit. I don't know how effective that might be at  limiting forced marriages, but it doesn't sound like an unworthy goal.
        I believe something like 40% of immigrants in Denmark are there as asylum seekers, and some have been accused of terrorism. I'm sure many of those accusations are specious or just political BS, but here in Norway we've had a lot of fun with a jackass called Mullah Krekar, an Iraqi asylum immigrant and accused terrorist. Any country should be able to dump folks like him.
        Islam is the largest religious minority in the country, after Danish Lutheranism.
        Denmark has a 99% literacy rate, maybe the lowest rate of violent crime in the world, a reasonably clean environment including a strong commitment to alternative energy, and pretty good income equality with a liberal democracy and strong social services. Honestly, if there is a more civilized country and people on the planet, I couldn't tell you which that might be (unless it's Norway).

        "Our answer is more democracy, more openness, more humanity." ~Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg

        by Andhakari on Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 02:39:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Theres much more to it (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Andhakari

          The 24 year rule is actually one of the least objective parts of the immigration laws.

          First a little about the problems:
          It is true that forced marriages in some traditional mainly muslim environments is a problem, but the target is much broader, as the bulk of immigration from several countries was simply marriages. So the only way to bring these numbers down was to target family reunion rights, and here forced marriages was very much just a talking point.

          While forced marriages are tragic and should be dealt with they are probably relatively rare. But arranged marriages with the consent of the parties have been very common among people of Pakistani, Turkish etc. decent. Personally I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand I really think people should be allowed to marry the way they want. On the other hand I see the problems, at it has had an effect of keeping the immigrant community secluded, with integration having to start all over again for each generation, many of the marriages between a young bride grown up in a western society and her rural Pakistani cousin breaking down and also an outright and pretty disgusting visa industry, where families back home was pressuring hard to get their children married to someone with a residency, often much for the sake of the visa.

          The remedy was not only the limit on visa for spouses to people older than 24 only. This is because the arranged marriages are often between very young people, and the theory was that they will go and find a spouse here instead. At 24 especially the girls are getting old on the marriage market in traditional families in many countries. The age limit can be discussed, but is not grossly discriminating between ethic Danes and decendents of immigrants, whether naturalized or not.

          But the age limit is far from the only one. The nastiest one is the "demand of closer connection", which means that the couple together needs to have a closer connection to Denmark than any other country. So if you are a young Dane of Pakistani descent, who speak Urdu and have spent most of your summer holidays in Pakistan, and your future spouse have never been to Denmark, then your combined connection to Pakistan will be greater, and you will get no visa for your spouse - ever! And from a country like Pakistan there is no chance in hell that he or she will ever get as much as a tourist visa to go to Denmark to make up for the difference. You are effectively expelled to Pakistan, if you want to be together.

          On top of this comes a system of points to get a permanent residency permit if you should have made it here, and the bar is set grotesquely high. Aside from being able to support yourself (your spouse doing so is not enough), there is a high level language test and you have to prove that you are an active member of society by doing volunteer or organisational work or the like. Grotesque examples on people running their own businesses and paying tons of taxes, but failing on the last count because of working 70 hours a week and wanting time for the family too, have surfaced in the press.

          And of course if you do not have a permanent residency and you get long term unemployed/too sick to have a job/your spouse dies, and you have trouble supporting yourself - out you go, even if you have kids and grandkids in the country!

          Theres still a whole list of other little nastinesses, and I don't even know them all. But I can mention the rule that you can not have a visa for a foreign spouse if someone in your immediate family has had one. So I better not fall in love with anyone from outside the EU, as my brother has already used the slot for his Japaneese wife...

          I have to stop now - I'm getting nauseaus!

  •  Go Helle! (0+ / 0-)

    Denmark, yet another democracy that is capable of electing a woman to the highest position. Perhaps America will get there someday (I'm not talking to you, Rep. Bachmann).

    •  It has been in the works for some time (0+ / 0-)

      Though female representation has stalled at about a third for the last couple of elections, their positions have been ever more prominent. Four out of the current nine party leaders are women.

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