Denmark to get first woman PM

2011-09-16 09:20

Copenhagen - Denmark's centre-left was celebrating victory on Friday after narrowly winning a general election to end a decade in opposition, ushering in the nation's first woman prime minister.

"We did it!" opposition leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt told ecstatic supporters, as near final results showed her bloc had won Thursday's vote.

"We made history today," added the Social Democratic leader destined to become Denmark's first woman head of government.

After 99.6% of votes had been counted, it was clear the centre-left bloc headed by Thorning-Schmidt had taken 89 seats in Denmark's 179-seat parliament against 86 for exiting Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen's centre-right government and parliamentary supporters.

"Earlier this evening I called (opposition leader) Helle Thorning-Schmidt. I congratulated her and told her she now has the chance to form a new government," Rasmussen told his disappointed supporters.

‘Just borrowing the keys’

Rasmussen, whose Liberal Party remained the country's biggest and gained a seat from the 2007 election, to 47, insisted his opponent's government would not last.

"This evening I hand the keys to the prime minister's office to Helle Thorning-Schmidt," he said, before adding: "Dear Helle, look after the keys, because you're only borrowing them."

He was expected to submit his resignation to Queen Margrethe later on Friday.

A total of 90 seats are needed for an absolute majority in the 179-seat parliament.

Four seats reserved for Denmark's autonomous territories Greenland and the Faroe Islands had yet to be officially tallied and were not yet included in the score, though they were unlikely to reverse the results, according to observers.

At the 2007 elections, the territories handed three votes to the centre-left and one to the centre-right.

Anti-immigration party out of power

The centre-right defeat spells an end to the powerful influence wielded by the populist, anti-immigration Danish People's Party (DPP).

For 10 years, the DPP has pressured the centre-right coalition to adopt some of Europe's most draconian immigration and integration regulations, in exchange for its support on other issues in parliament.

DPP leader Pia Kjaersgaard acknowledged to her supporters that "we're putting ourselves in opposition", but vowed her party would not let the centre-left parties rest. "We will be biting at their heels."

While immigration once topped debate in Denmark, this election campaign primarily focused on how to stir the country out of the slump caused by the global financial crisis.

Thorning-Schmidt, the daughter-in-law of former British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock, has vowed to shore up Denmark's welfare state and stimulate the slumping economy with spending, in contrast to the austerity measures proposed by Rasmussen.

She is however likely to form a minority government, regardless of whether the centre-left parties together secure an absolute majority, relying instead on strong parliamentary support from one or two of the parties in her bloc.

Coalition

As the results became clear, her supporters went wild, dancing away to James Brown's I Feel Good and waving posters of her smiling face as they waited for her to arrive at the election party.

Thorning-Schmidt's Social Democratic Party can take little credit for the spectacular turnaround, as it on Thursday lost a seat compared to the 2007 results, when it suffered its worst election result since 1906, finishing at 44 seats.

Instead, the centre-left victory can be attributed to the fact that she has managed the previously unthinkable task of drawing the far-left Red Greens and the centrist and market liberal Social Liberal Party into the same coalition, which also includes the centre-left Socialist People's Party.

The Red Greens more than doubled their 2007 result, landing 12 seats, while the Social Liberal Party added eight seats to their tally, to reach a total of 17, according to an exit poll by Danish broadcaster DR.

Social Liberal leader Margrethe Vestage was exuberant upon arriving at her election celebration, claiming her party would create a new atmosphere of cooperation across the blocs in parliament.

"We need a new government... Denmark must be free of bloc politics," she said.

Turnout was high and topped the 86.5% achieved in 2007.

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