Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Wednesday (27 May) called a general election, to be held on 18 June. Recent polls suggest the election could become a true thriller.
“When I became prime minister four years ago, Denmark was in a deep crisis. We were hit harder than most countries. I had one goal: To get us out of the crisis and I succeeded,” Thorning-Schmidt told a news conference.
“Denmark is in a better shape today. I think it’s now up to the Danes to decide which path way we should go down in the future,” she added.
Two different polls on Tuesday (26 May) showed that Thorning-Schmidt’s left-wing government coalition of Social Democrats and Social Liberals would win 48% of the votes against 52% for the centre-right opposition. But political commentators said Thorning-Schmidt could easily win 2 extra percentage points during the election campain over the next three weeks. The Social Democrats look to become the biggest party in the election, at above 26%, with the opposition parties the Liberals and the Danish People’s Party at around 20%.
While the right-wing opposition parties have been in the lead in the polls for years, the gap has narrowed quickly during 2015. While many Danes support the right-wing parties’ economic views, of lower taxes and a smaller public sector, as well as tighter immigration policies, opposition leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen is less popular.
Rasmussen, who served as Denmark’s premier between 2009 and 2011, when Anders Fogh Rasmussen left the country to become NATO Secretary General, has faced heavy criticism in the press, revealing that he often spent taxpayer money on clothes and travel for himself and his family.
The general election campaigns kicked off months ago. Only yesterday, Thorning-Schmidt’s government promised a spending package worth €5.2 billion, declaring the economic crisis over, and increased its 2015 growth forecast.
Thorning-Schmidt was elected 14 September 2011 and in Denmark the prime minister alone decides when the next election can be held, as long as it’s within the given four-year mandate.
Thorning-Schmidt first term has been chaotic at times. Ideally, she wanted to form a coalition government with the Socialist People’s Party only, but after the general elections it was clear that she needed to include the Social Liberals as well. This forced her economic policies to become more right-wing and more focused on austerity than most of her voters wanted. It also led the Socialist People’s Party to eventually step out of the government, leaving Thorning-Schmidt with the Social Liberals.
For the most part of her first term as prime minister, Thorning-Schmidt has been very unpopular among the Danes. At one point, her Social Democrats were only supported by 15% of voters, an all-time low for the party.
Thorning-Schmidt has been seen as too ‘upperclass’ for her party’s voter base, which are mostly working class. Political commentators have also noted that she often comes across as ‘mechanic’ when she speaks in public. However, in 2015 Thorning-Schmidt’s popularity has risen, particularly after the terror attacks in Copenhagen in February when two men were shot in two seperate Charlie Hebdo-inspired incidents. While she appeared strong, she was also vulnerable at the victims’ funerals and openly crying, something that won many people over.
If Thorning-Schmidt is reelected, her party could become more powerful in a new government, as it looks as if the Social Liberals have lost more than one-third of its voters since its previous leader, Margrethe Vestager, left for Brussels to become Commissioner for Competition.
If Rassmussen was to win the election with the support by the Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party, Denmark’s EU affairs policies could become more Eurosceptic as well. While the party is against further Danish EU integration and joining the euro, it is not in favour of Denmark leaving the EU.