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Election campaign posters are seen as people walk along the street in Copenhagen. The next general election for the Danish parliament will take place on November 1, 2022. Photo: AFP

Denmark goes to the polls in thriller election

  • Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is fighting to cling to power, but neither of the two main blocs looks likely to garner majority in parliament
  • New Moderates party, founded by former Liberal Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, expected to win 10 per cent of votes

Like an episode of political drama Borgen, Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is fighting to cling to power on Tuesday in a legislative election that could well crown an outsider.

In a political landscape split between 14 parties, polls suggest that neither of the two main blocs can garner a 90-seat majority in the 179-seat Folketing, the Danish parliament.

The left-wing “red bloc”, led by Frederiksen’s Social Democrats, is polling at 49.1 per cent, representing 85 seats, compared to 40.9 per cent or 72 seats for the “blue” bloc of right-wing parties.

Mette Frederiksen (centre), Danish Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democrats, meets voters as she campaigns in Roskilde, Denmark, earlier this month. Photo: AFP

“It’s about winning the middle, because the ones who get the middle get the prime minister’s seat,” said Kasper Hansen, a politics professor at the University of Copenhagen.

The new party occupying the political centre is the Moderates, founded by former Liberal Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

The polls indicate his party will win 10 per cent of the votes or 18 seats, a five-fold increase since September – much to the surprise of political analysts.


And Rasmussen, who boasts solid political experience, has refused to pledge support for either bloc ahead of the election.

Chairman of the Moderates party Lars Løkke Rasmussen during an election campaign in Haslev, Denmark. Photo: AFP

Party colleague Jakob Engel-Schmidt said they “are ready to work with the candidate who will facilitate the broadest cooperation around the centre to implement necessary reforms”.

And what the Moderates want to reform is healthcare and pensions.

In their efforts to attract the often less loyal centrist electorate, Frederiksen’s Social Democrats have announced that they want to govern across the traditional political dividing lines. They too have floated the Moderates’ idea of a coalition government gathered in the centre.


“This goes directly opposite to what she’s been saying before, and I think that’s because she senses that she might lose power otherwise,” said Martin Agerup, director of the liberal think tank CEPOS.

Jakob Ellemann-Jensen (left) and Soeren Pape Poulsen in Copenhagen. Photo: Ritzau Scanpix/Liselotte Sabroe via Reuters

Led by two other prime minister candidates – conservative Soren Pape Poulsen and liberal Jakob Ellemann-Jensen – the right wing has not extended the same hand.


Without a clear majority, there may have to be long negotiations before a government is formed after the election, which could ultimately favour Rasmussen.

“He’s a ferocious guy in negotiations,” Agerup said.

“He can basically operate until somebody will get scared enough to point to him and say: ‘Look, yes, you could be prime minister’”.


It’s a situation almost out of the hit political drama series Borgen, named after the seat of legislative and executive power in Denmark, in which the leader of an imaginary centrist party subtly manoeuvres her way to becoming prime minister.

Election posters are seen on a barrier near Christiansborg Palace, the Danish parliament building, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo: AFP

But outside the fiction, the Social Democrats, the largest party in the country’s political force, are trying to “play the card that they are the right party during uncertain times”, according to Rune Stubager, a professor of political science at Aarhus University.


Their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic was largely hailed, despite a stumble when they ordered an emergency cull of the country’s huge mink herd over fears of a mutated strand of the novel coronavirus. That turned out to be illegal.

With an economy in turmoil they have since introduced measures to help Danes cope with soaring prices.

They are proposing a carbon tax on agriculture and a pay rise in the public sector, while their allies have campaigned mainly on protecting biodiversity and support for children and the vulnerable.

The current government is negotiating with Rwanda to set up a centre to house asylum seekers, while their requests are being investigated.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (right) delivers a speech in front of parliament members and the Danish royal family at the reopening of the Danish parliament. Photo: Le Pictorium Agency via ZUMA/dpa

Across the political landscape there is a strong consensus on maintaining a restrictive migration policy, meaning the issue is rarely up for debate.

“There’s a clear consensus in parliament for strict immigration policies,” Hansen said.

The populist anti-immigration right is expected to win more seats this election, but it is split into three different parties who together receive 15.5 per cent votes in polls.

“We have to protect our society too and that means we cannot just open our borders,” Bjarke Rubow Jensen, a 35-year-old anthropologist and Social Democrat supporter, summed up the Danish mindset.