Denmark is holding a general election on Wednesday June 5th to renew the national parliament. In the recent European elections, Denmark surprised Europe with a 66% turnout ( a record-breaking number for a EU election in Denmark) with a vote that saw the victory of the Venstre party (moderate liberals, 23.5%) and the Social Democrats (21.48%) with losses for the Danish People’s Party, which fell to just over 10% of the vote, while in the parliamentary elections in 2015 it ranked second with 21.1% of the vote. On the eve of the elections, SIR interviewed Jeppe Duva, editor-in-chief of Kristeligt Dagblad, a daily newspaper of Christian inspiration.
Curiosity first. Why did the elections for the European Parliament and the national parliament not take place at the same time in Denmark?
The true reason is a strategic move on the part of the incumbent Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen. His party is called Venstre, which means Left, even though for the past four/ five generations it has been regarded as a centre-right party. Before Rasmussen called the general elections on 7 May, which will take place tomorrow, most analysts expected him to hold the general elections on the same date as the European Parliament elections, namely 26 May. According to Danish law, the last permissible date for elections was 17 June. So it seemed reasonable to combine the two votes on the same day. But the Prime Minister clearly chose to invest in the possibility that a prolonged election campaign could increase the chances of his political bloc. In the past, Rasmussen has proved to be good at running long-term campaigns. Now, however, there appear to be last-minute changes in the voters’ decisions, which would mark the failure of his tactics. Several opinion polls show that on Wednesday the centre-right is likely suffer relatively heavy losses.
What’s the climate in the Country after the results of the European vote? Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s party fared surprisingly well on May 26, but polls suggest that this won’t be enough to save his coalition in the general elections. Most commentators have noted the onset of a climate of defeatism among the centre-right parties that in the last four years have supported Rasmussen’s parliamentary majority. One could speak of “sadness” both within Venstre and in the other centre-right parties. These days, the main opposition party, the Social Democratic party, and the smaller centre-left parties, are holding their breath so as not to undermine what the polls indicate to be their future political leadership of the country.
Which were the main themes of the election campaign?
Climate-related issues are now a new and very important factor in Danish politics. Danish economy is currently thriving and unemployment is close to zero. This may partly explain why the environmental issue has played such a leading role. Moreover, no one wanted to discuss more practical issues such as cuts and pensions or labour market reforms. Immigration was another prevailing theme, but this time it proved less effective for the centre-right parties, since the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, adopted a restrictive attitude towards immigration and thus offset this divisive issue.
How do you explain the unprecedented participation of Danish citizens in the European elections?
Most likely the reason was Brexit, which attracted considerable interest with regard to Denmark’s participation in the EU. Moreover, the huge voter turnout of 66% may be due to the fact that the ongoing general election campaign has increased Danish citizens’ political awareness as a whole.
Surely there will be surprises with respect to the nationalist party: do the fewer votes in the European elections mean that even fewer are to be expected tomorrow or could the result be different?
Polls suggest that the Danish People’s Party – often described as a nationalistic or populist party that unexpectedly gained over a fifth of the vote in the 2015 elections – is likely to suffer heavy losses. This is probably for two reasons: the party lost its exclusive defence of a restrictive stance on immigration and Islam in Denmark. At the same time, the Danish People’s Party has been put under pressure by the right. In fact many polls indicate that two right-wing parties that took a tougher line on immigration and Islam reportedly enjoy the support of about 3-5% of the electorate.