COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – Denmark is holding a general election Wednesday and unlike in other European countries, far-right populists don’t seem to be on the rise here.
The center-left Danish Social Democrats, in fact, may be making a comeback after four years in opposition.
While far-right parties are making gains across Europe after the 2015 refugee crisis, Denmark’s largest party has elbowed itself back thanks to taking a tougher line on immigration. At the same time, Danish populists seem to have lost support.
A look at what is at stake in Wednesday’s elections to renew Denmark’s 179-seat Folketing, or parliament, at the end of its four-year term.
THE MAIN CONTENDERS
The Social Democrats, the main party in the so-called red bloc, and four other center-left parties face a center-right blue bloc that is losing steam. The latter is splintered into eight parties of which three are newcomers, including two openly anti-Muslim groups.
Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen’s three-party coalition isn’t campaigning together, and none wants to rely on support from the anti-immigration newcomers. At the same time, the populist Danish People’s Party that has been supporting the minority government sees shrinking support in polls.
Denmark’s 4.2 million voters can pick from 13 parties. The red bloc could get up to 55% of the vote, according to polls.
THE KEY ISSUES
Immigration, climate and environment along with welfare, where there have been cuts in recent years.
Whatever the result is, it likely will end with a minority government.
The Social Democrats want to form a one-party government headed by its leader, Mette Frederiksen, and will seek support on the right when it comes to immigration issues and on the left for matters like social welfare, said Nicolai Wammen, the party’s No. 2 official.
“There is a limit as to how many people we can take in and preserve (Denmark’s) welfare state,” Wammen said.
Many Danish People’s Party voters have drifted to the Social Democrats, mainly because of its stricter stance on immigration policy. It’s a position they already had in the 1980s and 1990s, but which they later watered down in a coalition with left-wing parties. They also have voted for several of the center-right government’s tightening of immigration laws.
The 2015 migration crisis, in which mostly Muslim asylum-seekers sought shelter in European countries, was “an eye-opener” for the Social Democrats, said Kasper Moeller Hansen, a political analyst with Copenhagen University, to explain why the party has shifted back to a firm line. He added it “triggered a change in their view on immigration.”
THE CENTER RIGHT
Loekke Rasmussen is heading a coalition with his Liberal Party, the smaller center-right Liberal Alliance and the Conservatives. But it depends on the Danish People’s Party to muster a 91-seat majority in parliament. They have been pressing for tightening Denmark’s immigration laws several times.
Laws range from a ban on garments covering the face, including Islamic veils such as the niqab or burqa to require newly arrived asylum-seekers to hand over valuables such as jewelry and gold to help pay for their stays or requiring anyone who becomes a Danish citizen to shake hands at the naturalization ceremony.
Last year, Denmark made international headlines when it was decided to send rejected asylum-seekers or those with a criminal record awaiting expulsion to an island that once housed a defunct laboratory for contagious animal diseases.
Wammen said if they win, they have no plans to reverse any of the laws on immigration.
In last month’s European Parliament elections, populists and anti-immigration parties made significant gains across the continent.
That trend didn’t happen in Denmark where the Danish People’s Party suffered a major blow when losing three of its four seats in the 751-seat European assembly.
Voters have turned away from the party because of fraud scandals involving European Parliament funds, domestic backpedaling but also criticism that it is no longer a protest party and doesn’t give enough attention to climate change and environmental protection.
In 2015, the party had its best-ever result in a national election when the euroskeptics grabbed more than 21% to become the second-largest party in the Scandinavian country of 5.8 million.
This time around, the party could see its support cut in half, according to polls.
THE NEW FAR-RIGHT
In recent months, Hardliner Course and New Right have been challenging the Danish People’s Party, claiming its immigration line is too soft.
Hardliner Course leader Rasmus Paludan has burned Islam’s holy book, the Quran, sometimes in public and under heavy police protection.
The 37-year-old lawyer has said in online videos that “the best thing is if there are no Muslims left on our dear Earth.”
“Only massive returns of Muslims can solve the problems that Denmark faces,” a party flier said.
More moderate is Pernille Vermund, 43, who founded the conservative, pro-business New Right in 2017 which calls for a stop to spontaneous asylum, limit Danish citizenship to people who “contribute positively” to society and calls for Denmark to leave the European Union which the Scandinavian country joined in 1973.
These parties, plus the third newcomer, headed by fraud-convicted businessman Klaus Riskjaer Pedersen, hover around the 2% threshold to win parliamentary seats.