Denmark: Right-wing government defeated, Red-Green Alliance triples seats

Prime Minister-elect Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

By Inger V. Johansen and Line Barfod

September 20, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal --The result of the September 15 parliamentary elections in Denmark means that the right-wing government of the last 10 years has finally been ousted.  A new government will be formed under the leadership of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the leader of the Social Democrats. The core parties of this government will be the Social Democrats and the Socialist People's Party (SPP), who for some years have formed a close partnership with the aim of strengthening the possibilities for an alternative government.

For the first time a woman will be the prime minister of a Danish government.  For the first time SPP will be in government.

There are, however, also drawbacks. It was a very narrow victory.  The opposition parties achieved merely 89 seats out of the 179 seats of the Danish Folketing (parliament), with the right-wing parties at 86 seats. There are also four North Atlantic (Greenland and Faroe islands) seats.The two main new government coalition partners both lost seats in the elections -- the Social Democrats lost one seat (now 44 seats and 24.9% of the votes, which is the worst election result in more than 100 years) and SPP lost  seven seats (now 16 seats and 9.2% -- down from 13%) -- a big loss.

But we are happy to announce that our party Enhedslisten/the Red-Green Alliance was one of the big winners of the election, with an increase in seats from four to 12, with 6.7% (up from 2.2%) of the votes. The other party that was a winner was the centre opposition party Radikale Venstre (Liberal Democrats"), which also gained eight seats.t now has 17 seats (9.5% -- up from 5.1%). What characterised these two parties were the clear and unambiguous political lines of their campaigns, which seem to have attracted voters in big numbers. 

The Red-Green Alliance stuck to a radical left position: a clear defence of the social rights of working people, against reducing and removing early retirement and raising the pension age and opposing the consistent deterioration of the rules regulating unemployment benefits, policies of the previous government, and for a radical climate plan investing in new green jobs and decent asylum and other policies relating to immigrants and refugees.

The Liberal Democrats share with us the same policies with regard to immigrants and refugees -- which indicates  another consequence of these elections, which is that the extreme right-wing Danish People's Party has now been reduced (down three seats to 22, and 12.3%) and its significant influence over Danish politics has been eliminated.

The “immigrant” issue is not a strong part of the political debate any more.

However, the Liberal Democrats are also a party with neoliberal economic policies (very similar to those of the previous right-wing government) and they will expect to enter government with the Social Democrats and SPP. With its huge increase in seats, the Red-Green Alliance will also demand a significant influence on the policies of the coming government, although the Red-Green Alliance has always made it clear that it does not wish to participate in a new alternative government, as we know that the policies of such a government will differ from our positions in crucial ways.

Our party supports an alternative government, led by the Social Democrats, and the formation of such a government will depend on our seats. We would prefer a government consisting of only the Social Democrats and SPP, but this option is not viable. It is obvious from this and the election result in general that the conditions for forming the new government and agreeing on common policies will be difficult.

Another drawback in the election result was the fact that Venstre (the Liberal Party), the main right-wing party of the previous coalition government, also kept its position as the largest political party with 26.7% of the vote and 47 seats -- but this was because it attracted the votes of the Conservative Party, a previous coalition partner, but also the biggest loser of the election. The Conservatives lost more than half of its seats (down to eight seats from 18 and now only 4.9% of the vote). Besides this, a new neoliberal party, the Liberal Alliance, formed during the last parliamentary period, also had a good result (5% and nine seats, up from four) -- also attracting votes from the Conservative Party.

We in the Red-Green Alliance expected to gain seats in this election but are truly surprised that we achieved a tripling of seats. This of course places a huge responsibility on our shoulders.  We have advanced -- in some places significantly -- in nearly all of the constituencies in the country. This undoubtedly shows the level of popular anger and distress with the policies of the right-wing government, which have led to a deterioration of public welfare for many people. Recent figures also show that the polarisation of the Danish population with regard to income has increased more during the last 10 years than in any other EU member country. 

But there are other factors explaining the electoral success of the Red-Green Alliance. The SPP has moved into a close partnership with the Social Democrats and has more or less accepted Social Democratic policies, creating increasing disaffection among a large number of the party's electorate. SF's loss of seats indicates this. Another important factor is the role of Johannne Schmidt-Nielsen, a young female MP of the Red-Green Alliance and leading figure in the election campaign, who did extremely well and achieved huge popularity. We have also worked in a very dedicated manner on our communications -- so that everybody knew that we fight for the rights of the working people. Last, it should be added that our party has made conscious and good efforts over the last years to strengthen the party after the last disastrous election in November 2007.

[Inger V. Johansen is a member of the European Affairs Committee of the Red-Green Alliance. Line Barfod is a former MP for the party and a member of its executive board.]

Denmark: Red-Green Alliance triples vote as right thrown out

By Dick Nichols

September 18, 2011 -- Green Left Weekly/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- What the polls had predicted would be an easy victory for the Social Democrats in Denmark's September 15 election turned out to be much closer. The last poll before the vote showed the Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt ahead of her Liberal opponent Lars Løkke Rasmussen by 52.3% to 47.5% as preferred prime minister.

However, Danes came out in droves to vote, with total voter turnout at 87.7%, its highest level in decades. The final result saw the left-of-centre parties winning by only 50.3% to 48.9%, 89 seats to 86.

The likely result in the four seats elected in Greenland and the Faroe Islands (three to one to the centre-left) will make their final majority 92 seats to 87 in Denmark's 179-seat parliament.

The Social Democrats have won office -- and installed Denmark's first women prime minister -- not so much because of their own performance. Rather it was because of the collapse of support for the country's most right-wing parties, including the overtly racist Danish People's Party (DPP), and the big increase in support for the Social Liberals and the Red-Green Alliance.

The Social Liberals are the most conservative of the four left-of-centre parties and the Red-Green Alliance the most radical.

The Social Liberals won 9.5% of the vote, increasing their number of seats by eight to 17. The Red-Green Alliance significantly increased its representation in the parliament from four to 12 seats, winning 6.7% of the vote.

The Social Democrats actually recorded their worst result since 1906, and remain only the second-largest party in parliament. They are behind the Liberals, who, despite economic stagnation and participation in the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, increased their support by one seat.

That strong result had Rasmussen cautioning Thorning-Schmidt not to get too comfortable in her position. “Take care of the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office, they are only yours to borrow”, he said during his concession speech.

The election result reflects real trends in Danish society.

The Red-Green Alliance increased its support as the most visible and consistent force in Denmark opposing neoliberal economic policies, Danish participation in NATO and racist immigration laws. It won votes away from the Socialist People's Party (SPP), which originated as an anti-Stalinist split from the Communist Party in the 1960s.

The SPP also appears to have lost votes to the Social Democrats, who campaigned strongly on the traditional SPP themes of defence and extension of the Danish welfare state.

In her acceptance speech, Thorning-Schmidt pledged to work for a society that “included everyone, and where everyone got a second chance – and another second chance”. The Social Democrats promised an increase in taxes on the wealthy to fund a reinvigorated welfare system.

Thorning-Schmidt also pledged to seek broad-based compromise and called on “everyone”, politicians and ordinary voters alike, to take part in that effort.

The gain for the Social Liberals reflected a switch from middle-class sectors from supporting both the right parties and the Social Democrats.

Within the right, the vote that deserted the Conservatives and DPP went to strengthen the Liberals, seen as the strongest bastion against the what is known in Denmark as the "red bloc".

Debate over how to revive Denmark's flagging economy is sure to dominate debate in the new parliament, especially as the country's most ideological neoliberals, the Liberal Alliance, nearly doubled their representation to nine seats.

Thorning-Schmidt will negotiate to draw the Social Liberals and SPP into government, but she is unlikely to invite the Red-Green Alliance, which has vowed to push the new government as far to the left as possible, while supporting it against censure motions from the right opposition.

The most immediate positive benefit of the result will be the end of Denmark's frontier controls, imposed by the former government as the price of DPP support on other issues in parliament.

Danish 2011 parliamentary election results

[Dick Nichols is the Green Left Weekly/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal correspondent in Europe.]