Denmark’s centre-right begins coalition talks after election win

Second-place DF party may decide to support government from opposition

Kristian Thulesen Dahl: his right-wing populist Danish People’s Party  emerged as the big election winner. Photograph: Linda Kastrup/EPA

Kristian Thulesen Dahl: his right-wing populist Danish People’s Party emerged as the big election winner. Photograph: Linda Kastrup/EPA

 

Fans of television political drama Borgen are no strangers to the intricacies of Danish coalition-building, but voters handed Denmark’s real-life leaders a fiendish political puzzle to solve after Thursday’s general election.

Centre-left Social Democrats of prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt topped the poll but its centre-left “red” block lost power after one term; Lars Løkke Rasmussen of the liberal Venstre, traditionally leader of the winning centre-right “blue” bloc, saw his party drop to third place.

And the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party (DF) emerged as the big election winner after almost doubling its vote but is unsure whether it wants to take office.

Regardless of what coalition emerges, the outcome of a closely fought election is likely to see Denmark further toughen its stance on immigration and refugee issues, and give conditional support to British EU reform demands.

Nail-biting

“Venstre did not get the election we dreamed of, but we got the opportunity to head a government that can harness the upswing and let it gain traction in all of Denmark,” said Mr Rasmussen, aiming to be Denmark’s next prime minister. “That opportunity will be explored in the coming days. Difficult negotiations await.”

Mr Rasmussen was just 44 when, in 2009, he became prime minister the last time around. He lost power two years later, ending a decade of centre-right rule in Denmark, as voters rebelled against his government’s reforms in the worst economic crisis since 1945.

Tainted by various political scandals, and known in Copenhagen political circles for his temper, Mr Rasmussen will need all the patience he can muster in post-election talks with DF leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl.

On election night the 45-year-old Mr Dahl refused to be drawn on whether, as head of Denmark’s second-largest party, he was now tempted to oust Mr Rasmussen and become prime minister himself.

“This is a result that gives DF the opportunity for a lot of influence,” he said.

Founded in 1995, the DF acquired a reputation as a hard-right populist and even xenophobic party under its first, divisive leader Pia Kjærsgaard. Since taking over in 2012, however, Mr Dahl has toned down the political rhetoric to capture younger and middle-class voters.

Asked if the party was surprised by the scale of their gains, Ms Kjærsgaard told Danish television on Thursday night: “Did anyone think we would have been in this position? Even we didn’t.”

As DF debates whether to enter office, or continue its strategy of supporting a centre-right minority government from the opposition benches, tensions loom on two key policy points.

On social spending, Venstre is pushing for a budget freeze while the DF says additional spending is needed to boost health and old-age care. On the EU, Mr Dahl and his colleagues want full-blown support for Britain’s demands for bloc reform, but Mr Rasmussen’s Venstre backs reforms that do not require treaty change.

Stepping down

“Leadership is also about stepping down at the right time and that time is now,” she said to supporters. “I was Denmark’s first female prime minister but I won’t be the last.”