Denmark seen swinging left in poll

2011-09-12 13:43

Copenhagen - Danish voters this week look set to end a decade of far-right influence, ousting the current government in favour of a centre-left coalition after an election campaign that focused on the economy.

Opinion polls have consistently shown the opposition leading Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen's centre-right coalition ahead of Thursday's vote.

Rasmussen's bloc has been narrowing the gap in recent days, but observers suggest Danes are tired of the minority Liberal-Conservative coalition, which has been in power since 2001.

And they are thought to be especially unhappy with its key ally, the anti-immigration Danish People's Party (DPP).

The DPP has provided key support to the government in exchange for pushing through some of Europe's most draconian immigration and integration regulations.

But it has also heavily influenced a wide range of issues.

Basis for government policy

"The party has understood how to use its influence to the maximum and has been the basis for all of the government's policy," Copenhagen University political science professor Casper Moeller Hansen said.

The left bloc is headed by Social Democratic party leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, 44, who would become the country's first woman prime minister in the event of a left-wing victory.

The election campaign has focused almost entirely on how to pull Denmark out of its economic woes amid a deepening global economic and financial crisis.

Denmark narrowly missed recession this year as growth hovers around 1%. The government recently forecast the deficit would balloon next year to nearly $16.5bn, or 4.6% of gross domestic product.

But while the centre-right has called for austerity measures, the centre-left insists the country should spend its way out of the crisis.

The left bloc has blasted Rasmussen's government for "callously" cutting back on retirement and failing to spend to stimulate the economy.

Calls for spending

"After 10 years with Lars Loekke and [DPP leader Pia] Kjaersgaard, Denmark has ground to a halt," Thorning-Schmidt charged recently.

The left has called for spending of about $3.39bn to get the economy moving, which they say could be financed by adding an extra hour to the working week.

It has vowed it will not borrow to fund the welfare state.

But 47-year-old Rasmussen, who took over when his predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen was appointed Nato chief in 2009, has hit back.

He says the opposition's economic plan is vague, will dramatically deepen the deficit and cause both interest rates and unemployment to rise.

He has dismissed the opposition's planned stimulus spending as "irresponsible wishful thinking".


In the meantime, he has pushed through plans to raise the official retirement age from 65 to 67 and gradually do away with early retirement, which today is possible starting at age 60.

Ironically, political commentators note that no radical changes are expected on economic or immigration policy should the centre-left win the election.

"Both the government and opposition plans operate with a deficit in 2012 of between $14 and 16bn, so in the short term there is not much difference, and both plans seek to balance the budget in the long term," Aarhus University economics professor Bo Sandemann Rasmussen said.

As for immigration, the DPP has left such a strong mark on Danish politics that other political parties have already adopted some of the immigration rhetoric that has permeated Danish and European politics.

The Social Democrats and their allies have promised to partially roll back rules on points systems for residency and nationality, as well as the controversial recent DPP-fostered introduction of permanent customs controls.

Yet even the Social Democrats speak of restricting and placing demands on immigrants and integration, and agree that more police and customs officials should secure Danish borders.


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