Denmark’s centre-left ruling parties win cliffhanger election

Prime minister Mette Frederiksen expected to explore a centrist coalition

Denmark's prime minister and head of the the Social Democratic Party Mette Frederiksen addresses party supporters in Copenhagen on Tuesday night. Photograph: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Denmark’s Social Democratic prime minister Mette Frederiksen is likely to explore a new centrist coalition after her centre-left bloc secured a last-minute, one-seat majority in Tuesday’s general election.

Ms Frederiksen formally submitted her resignation to Queen Margrethe, hours after Denmark’s red bloc finished one seat ahead in a cliffhanger election count early on Wednesday.

“It is certain there is no longer a majority behind the government in its current form,” she said of her outgoing Social Democrat (SD) administration.

However she insisted she had a mandate to form a new government, either a leftist alliance or centrist coalition, after the SD’s “best election in over 20 years”.

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It finished first with 27.5 per cent support and 50 seats. In total the “red” bloc of leftist parties, led by the Social Democrats, scored the 87 seats they needed in mainland Denmark and three additional seats from its overseas territories of the Faroe Islands and Greenland. In total the party has 90 of parliament’s 179 seats compared to 72 seats for the “blue” bloc of conservative, liberal and far-right parties.

Ms Frederiksen’s tight victory gives her a strategic advantage in coalition talks with her political rivals, including her predecessor as prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

The two-time leader made a surprise comeback in this snap election with his new Moderates, peeling away 9 per cent support from his former conservative-liberal Venstre party to secure 16 seats.

Danish election: Old coalition certainties dwindle in snap pollOpens in new window ]

To cheering supporters, Mr Rasmussen said a change of government was now a certainty and that his Moderates would be a “bridge” between left and right. “It’s not about red or blue, it’s about common sense,” he added.

It remains unclear what role in government would satisfy Mr Rasmussen, who on election night floated the idea of a third term as prime minister.

That is unlikely to happen given the popularity of the 44-year-old Ms Frederiksen, who steered the country through the Covid-19 pandemic and has vowed to step up defence spending amid growing security threats.

Forming a bipartisan government is unusual in Denmark, where a proliferation of political parties in recent years have made minority coalitions with dynamic majorities the norm.

Easing any potential Social Democrat coalition alliance with the centre-right: a previous term of consensus measures, including robust immigration and asylum measures criticised by the UN and human rights advocacy groups.

Even if she continues in office in a new alliance, tradition requires Ms Frederiksen to ask the monarch for a so-called queen’s round or dronningerunde to begin.

Queen Margarethe will appoint a royal examiner, usually the prime minister presumptive, with the task of probing which parties can form a new government.

Ms Frederiksen called the election to avoid a vote of no confidence by political allies over the illegal cull in November 2020 of 15 million mink amid fears virus mutations could undermine the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

In June, a parliament-appointed commission said the drastic move, based on “grossly misleading” statements, was illegal. However the commission agreed with the prime minister that she had not broken the law intentionally. Now a multibillion compensation bill looms for more than 1,000 former mink farmers and their devastated industry.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin