Danish election paves way for centrist government: exit poll

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Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is clinging on to her job after losing her majority in an election triggered in the wake of a scandal over her decision to cull the country’s population of mink.

According to an exit poll, Frederiksen’s Social Democrats are on course to remain the biggest party in the country after Tuesday’s election, but her political survival depends on a new centrist grouping.

An initial survey by public broadcaster DR suggests the Social Democrats secured 23.1 percent of the vote, which would earn them 42 of the 179 seats in parliament. This put them ahead of the Liberal Party of Jakob Ellemann-Jensen on 13.5 percent of the vote, or 24 seats.

But the outcome is also bittersweet for Frederiksen. If confirmed by official tallies, winning 42 seats would be her party’s worst election result in more than 100 years.

In a political landscape split between 14 parties, both the left-leaning “red bloc,” which secured 85 seats, and the rival right-wing “blue bloc,” on 73 seats, fell short of the 90 seats needed for a majority in the 179-seat parliament. The remaining seats went to unaligned parties.

The election was triggered by a scandal about a government-mandated mink cull during the coronavirus pandemic. An uncharacteristically exciting and chaotic campaign followed, at times seeming to foreshadow the twists and turns of the latest season of the popular TV political drama “Borgen.”

If confirmed, the exit poll results would mean Frederiksen would need the support of former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and his newly formed Moderate party, which secured 9.3 percent of the vote, or 17 seats.

Rasmussen has not said he will back either bloc, putting the former prime minister in the position of kingmaker during the upcoming negotiations.

He used that position during the campaign to call for a broad coalition of more moderate parties from both the red and blue blocs, a move that could upset the nation’s post-war political order. Some have even suggested he could use his post-election influence to hold out for a senior role or even the prime minister position.

But Rasmussen, who previously served as prime minister from 2009 to 2011 and again from 2015 to 2019 for Denmark’s Liberal party, said he does not envision becoming prime minister a third time. “That’s not in my mind,” he said Tuesday morning after casting his vote.

Magnus Heunicke, currently health minister and member of the Social Democrats, told journalists that voters may have punished his party for some of the decisions they had to make during a “time when there was a real need for someone to show leadership.”

“I think we have done that and we can be proud of it. But it may also have taken its toll, because some people may disagree with some of the decisions we’ve made,” he added. 

Heunicke reiterated the party’s desire to form a broad, centrist government: “This result only underpins our desire for broad cooperation. Now let’s sit down together and see if we can form a centrist government.”

The Danish People’s Party, meanwhile, which was the second biggest party in the country from 2015 until 2019 and the face of far-right politics, lost significant ground, according to the exit poll. It’s only projected to get 2.5 percent of the vote, or 4 seats — just above the parliament’s 2 percent threshold.

Dramatic campaign

Domestic issues dominated the campaign, ranging from tax cuts and a need to hire more nurses to financially supporting Danes amid inflation and soaring energy prices because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Once a pivotal topic, immigration has fallen down the agenda, partly because the Social Democrats have vowed to remain tough on migration, depriving right-leaning parties of a possible rallying point.

Although Frederiksen’s party will remain the largest in parliament, it has lost popularity in recent months — falling from 48 seats to 42 seats, if the exit poll is confirmed — after a number of scandals rocked her reputation. These include a 2020 order to cull all of the country’s farmed mink over fears they could spread a mutated variant of the coronavirus, a policy that devastated Europe’s largest fur exporter.

A parliament-appointed commission said in June that the government had lacked legal justification for the cull and that it had made “grossly misleading” statements when ordering the sector to be shut down. A leftist party backing Frederiksen’s minority government withdrew its support as a result of the report, forcing Frederiksen to call Tuesday’s early election.

Her center-right rivals, however, have also lost ground, with the Conservative leader, Søren Pape Poulsen, hit by revelations about lies told by his former husband and the Liberals suffering from internal splits.

Negotiations to form a new government could take weeks, with the right bloc likely to try to match or surpass every offer made to Rasmussen’s Moderates by the red bloc in an effort to regain power.

This article has been updated with more details on the exit poll results and election campaign.

Read More: Danish election paves way for centrist government: exit poll

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