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The Triumph of ‘Gucci’ Helle: The Danish Elections – OpEd

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A few American commentators had time to admire the recent electoral process in Denmark. The recent Danish elections concluded with a victory for the coalition of the Social Democrats led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt and other parties of the centre-left. It made R. Spencer Oliver (Congress Blog, Sep 16), secretary general to the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, almost envious. The biggest difference to other electoral campaigns, notably that of the US, he notes, lies in the cash sloshing in the campaign.

There are other features that are impressive about this particular election. Whatever criticisms might be levelled at the candidates, the participation rate was unusually high – 87.7 percent. Mudslinging is kept to a minimum. Campaign durations are also short – elections can be held at a minimum of 21 days notice. There is a consensus on the issue of banning political advertising, excepting at the program ‘Meet the Parties’, where contending political groups can air their election videos.

In the end, the victory has been a remarkable one for Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The conservative press made a foiled attempt at cornering her over tax-evasion. She braved televised debates with the Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, leader of the Liberal party. Her victory also ended ten years of rule by the centre-right Liberal-Conservative coalition, which presided over the introduction of some of Europe’s strictest immigration controls while liberalising the market.

The British, in turn, could only focus on the familial relationships. Forget royalty – the Danish leader’s father-in-law is Labour’s Neil Kinnock. And, as ever, there were also lessons to be provided from the Danish classroom of politics. For Robbin Pettit of the Guardian (Sep 16), ‘a Kinnock, albeit a Kinnock by marriage, can win elections; difficult coalitions are not the end of the world – Denmark has survived far worse than what this election has produced and remained hugely successful on a wide range of measures; and having too many televised debates can be tiresome and tends to obscure rather than clarify political positions.’

There was also time to note the use of various forms of social media used by the politicians, all in an effort to, as Anna Ebbesen of Nordic Techpolitics explained (TechPresident.com, Sep 14) ‘act normal’ with their voters. (The very idea, surely, being a contradiction in terms.) Thorning-Schmidt made full use of Facebook, asking her various cyber-acquired ‘friends’ to ask questions as specific times slotted for chatting.

The dominant issue for the electors: economics. It was so dominant it even shaded such hot potato subjects as immigration, which has gotten the sort of headlines some Danes would rather have avoided. The Danish People’s Party, who have reaped considerable rewards from it over the years, lost ground – down from 13.9 percent in 2007 to 12.3 percent. With promises by its reactionary leader Pia Kjaersgaard to provide free pepper spray to all Danes, an era of theatre was bound to end. Instead, the Social Democrats promise increased government involvement (stimulus and more stimulus) while also calling on Danes to work an extra 12 minutes more a day to be more productive. The treadmill is in sight.

The new Prime Minister will be nursing a small majority (92 seats out of the 179 of the Danish Parliament) that remains fragile to erosion and change. In the words of the Berlingske daily, the ‘deep mutual dispute over the most important questions in society’ amongst the coalition members may derail her time in office. Her own party lost ground in the election, achieving their worst result, in 100 years. The Social Democrats themselves came in second behind Rasmussen’s Venstre (Liberal Democrats) party, which will be an ominous force in opposition. But there will be a sense of euphoria, not merely for the victory for the new Prime Minister, but the fact that no woman has ever attained that position in that otherwise liberal country. Denmark under ‘Gucci’ Helle looks slightly different to what it was before the polls.

Binoy Kampmark

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]

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