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Danish politics for the brainy: The 2015 election

18 June we will know which of the following themes have been decisive in garnering the votes

It has long been considered a fact that the first female Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt from the Social Democrats, would be kicked out of office in the next election.

But the opinion polls have suddenly started to look better for the ’red block’ of political parties supporting the government after trailing far behind ‘the blue block’ opposition group for most of her years in office. The gap is now around three to four percentage points in blue block’s favour in most opinion polls.

Political analysts are debating whether Gucci-Helle, as the prime minister is called by her critics because of her penchant for expensive handbags and clothes, can pull off one of the biggest comebacks ever in the history of Danish politics.

Read also the University Post guide: Danish politics for dummies

Failed promises

Helle Thorning-Schmidts problem is that she doesn’t look like a real Social Democratic worker and more like a successful business woman.

She has also made promises at the last general election campaign which she failed to keep. Like improving the welfare system’s schools and hospitals, and increasing the taxes on the richest.

In reality, she needed the support of the small but powerful Social Liberal party to stay in power, and they wanted to streamline the Danish welfare state, using less on benefits, more on education, so things turned out differently.

Several unpopular reforms instigated by her Social Liberal partners have been carried out during her term in office. The government was forced to take on the previous government’s policy of reducing the number of years you can get unemployment benefits.

High grades

Helle Thorning-Schmidt defends herself saying that a responsible fiscal policy has been necessary because of the financial crisis in Europe and the US. Latest the Social Democrats has run a campaign on billboards saying she has done what was right for Denmark.

From a fiscal point of view the government has been successful. The credit rating institute Moody’s gives the Danish economy the highest rating with only Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Australia.

However economic growth is below the European average. Unemployment rates are improving however, so the government has proclaimed the crisis to be over.

So which issues will decided the upcoming election?

A poll from last year showed that unemployment topped the voters list with 28 per cent saying it is the most important political issue. This despite the fact that the unemployment rate is only 4.9 per cent – lower than many other European countries.

Hospitals and health were ranked second with 28 per cent and the economy as the third most important issue with 26 per cent. Immigrants and refugees were rated as the most important issue by 22 per cent of the voters.

High taxes

Danes pay 47 per cent of GDP in taxes, one of the highest rates in the world, but tax policies don’t rank high on the voters list. 13 percent rate it as one of the two most important issues.

The Liberal Party will most likely try to make taxes a theme at the election anyway.

Almost 800,000 of 5.6 million Danes are dependent on public welfare such as unemployment benefits and pension. Calculations show that around 330,000 Danes have little economic incentive to get a job.

The Liberal Party wants to put a cap on how much money you can get in public benefits and introduce tax relief on the lower tax brackets.

Nationalism on the rise

The upcoming elections will – like most Danish elections – be won by the block of parties which the voters believe will be the best at creating economic growth, new jobs and at securing the welfare state.

But the nationalist Danish People´s Party will once again try to make immigration the election decider.

The party might succeed if it puts the growing number of asylum seekers coming from Syria and the increasing number of immigrant workers coming from Eastern Europe on the agenda.

According to polls the Danish People´s Party will get almost 20 per cent of the vote.

Løkkes low credibility

Even if the Danish election system is not a first-past-the-post presidential-style race, where the candidate who gets the most votes wins, voters personal preferences between party leaders still play a large part.

In Denmark the groups of parties which can form an alliance supported by a majority of seats, decides who gets to be prime minister.

If the ‘blue block’ wins it will be the chairman of the Liberals Lars Løkke Rasmussen and if the ‘red block’ wins Helle Thorning-Schmidt will continue.

Helle Thorning-Schmidts chance might be that the voters rate Lars Løkke Rasmussens personal credibility as the lowest among the leaders of the political parties. Helle Thorning-Schmidt is rated as having the third highest credibility.

38 per cent prefer her to be the prime minister while only 33 per cent prefer Lars Løkke Rasmussen in spite of the blue block’s advantage in the polls.

The scandals

Lars Løkke Rasmussen has been hit hard by a number of political scandals the recent years concerning his use of public funds.
Denmark has a low level of corruption according to the organization Transparency International, and it has been a hard blow for the former, and maybe future, prime minister’s legitimacy with the voters.

He almost had to resign as the chairman of his party last year after using DKK 241,526 riding taxis, watching movies at hotels, buying cigarettes and talking on the phone. The bills were paid by the regional government when he was a mayor and by the Liberals Party.

He also used more than a DKK 1m flying on first class and business class when he was the chairperson of the climate organization Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), which gets DKK 90m in support from the Danish government.

Danish tabloids found out that the Liberal Party used DKK 152,000 to equip Løkke Rasmussen with 9 suits, 28 shirts, underpants and socks. The problem is that political parties in Denmark get public funding according to the number of votes they got at the last election.

So in reality the taxpayers’ paid for Lars Løkke Rasmussens underwear.

clba@adm.ku.dk

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