By Helene Helboe Pedersen (Aarhus University)
The result of the Danish national election on June 18 2015 has already been interpreted in several ways as a wake-up call to the urban political elite from the rural areas or as the election with only one winner who did not wanted to win.
Up until Election Day the polls predicted almost a tie between the so-called blue and red bloc. The red bloc had been in office since 2011 headed by prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemocrats) in coalition with the Social Liberals and supported by the Socialist Peoples’ Party and the Red-Green Alliance. The government was behind in the polls when the election was called but gained during the three weeks election campaign. In this election a new party running for the first time, the Alternative, joined the bloc and somewhat surprisingly very soon seemed to be successful in winning significant parliamentary representation.
The blue bloc consists of the Liberals running with Lars Løkke Rasmussen as prime minister candidate supported by the Conservatives and the Liberal Alliance both arguing in favour of reducing taxes and restricting welfare benefits and by the Danish Peoples’ Party promoting a more strict immigration and asylum policy but also moving towards the centre on economic issues wanting more public spending on especially health and elderly care.
Even though the polling agencies did not want to point out a winner before Election Day, very soon after the first exit polls were published the blue bloc proved to be able to regain office, making the famous words of Lars Løkke Rasmussen at the last election true. Here he had declared that Helle Thorning-Schmidt was only allowed to borrow his keys to the prime minister office. However, this clear result masked important changes within the blocs. Actually the Liberals lost the election reduced by 13 seats (28 per cent) while the Danish Peoples’ Party once again won even more than the polls had predicted. With 37 seats the Danish Peoples’ Party is now the largest party in blue bloc, while the Socialdemocrats regained their status as the largest party in parliament. This unexpected gain by the Danish Peoples’ Party was mainly due to sliding victories in some of the rural areas and has therefore been interpreted as a sign of mobilization against the academic urban political elite, which dominates most of the other parties.
Already on the night of the election Helle Thorning-Schmidt acknowledged the defeat and immediately resigned as leader of the Socialdemocrats. The floor was now open for Lars Løkke Rasmussen to form a government. Denmark has most often been governed by minority coalitions cooperating with parties in opposition to pass legislation and stay in power. Lars Løkke Rasmussen invited all parties from the blue bloc who had explicitly supported him as the new prime minister during the election campaign. Negotiations started already on the night of the election and continued a week before it was finally settled that the Liberals would form a slim single party government controlling only 34 of the 179 seats in parliament. Sunday June 28 the list of ministers was published together with the government program.
This new Liberal government is remarkable in Danish politics for at least three reasons. First, it is a single party government which is uncommon and not seen in Danish politics since 1973 where another slim single party government was formed also by the Liberals after the so-called land slide election and lasted for only two years.
Second, the largest party in the bloc, Danish Peoples’ Party, did not enter government, but leaved the minister offices to the Liberals arguing that they would be more influential pushing the government from the outside. This was actually also the case in 1973 when the Progress Party – from which the Danish Peoples’ Party is a splinter party – was not even invited to join government being the largest party in the bloc with its 28 seats. This time the Danish Peoples’ Party was invited. But the ultimate winner of the election refused to take office arguing that they did not find the compromises satisfactory but also influenced by the experiences of the Socialist Peoples’ Party that after devastating internal fights ended up leaving the first government they ever joined in January 2014. Kristian Thulesen Dahl was afraid that the Danish Peoples’ Party might suffer the same destiny if it entered a government where the policy compromises would be too troublesome for their voters to accept.
Third, the newly formed government is remarkable in Danish politics because it has written a coalition agreement even though it is a single party government. Coalition agreements have only been common in Denmark since 1993. But no government has formed since without presenting a coalition agreement. Now, we have our first single party government since this norm was established, and Løkke Rasmussen seems to follow the same procedure as always even though he is not leader of a coalition. The government program (regeringsgrundlag) is however clearly a compromise taking the interests of the other blue bloc parties into account. For instance, The Løkke Rasmussen government plan for a growth in the public sector, even though the Liberals ran a campaign on holding back on public spending. This is clearly accommodating the Danish Peoples’ Party. Also, the government program announces to reduce taxes on the highest incomes reaching out towards the Liberal Alliance and the Conservatives. It stays within the negotiation rooms to what extent this agreement is accepted by the other parties of the blue bloc, but they do not sign the agreement and Liberal Alliance as well as Danish Peoples’ Party have already criticized elements of the agreement in public.
The new Liberal government consists of 17 ministers. 16 ministers are drawn from the 34 seats parliamentary party groups while the new Minister of Employment is the non-elected former head of the Confederation of Danish Employers. The ministers were presented for the Queen this morning (June 29 2015) and will take office just before the summer break. The government is challenged by a slim bloc majority but mostly by important disagreements within the bloc. Løkke Rasmussen needs to create compromises on welfare and tax policies between a left-leaning Danish Peoples’ Party and two economically liberal parties and both sides have a lot to loose. The Danish Peoples’ Party needs to prove that it is indeed able to turn the impressive electoral result into influence even though it decided not to enter government. The old conservative party is fighting for its life and position in Danish politics and needs policy results to sharpen its profile. The new single party government needs more coalition governance capacity than most coalition governments do.