Danish PM, Buoyed by Immigration Curbs, Wins Re-Election

Jens Norgaard Larsen, AFP, Feb. 8

COPENHAGEN—Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s center-right coalition government retained power in the general election following a campaign dominated by its economic policies and restrictive immigration rules.

“It is a strengthened government that today can continue its work,” Rasmussen told ecstatic supporters in Copenhagen as they waved blue Liberal Party flags and chanted “Anders! Anders!”.

“It is one thing to be elected, but it is another thing, and a very difficult thing, to be re-elected,” he boasted to reporters.

Less than an hour earlier, Mogens Lykketoft, head of the main opposition Social Democrats, conceded defeat in the country’s general election.

“It’s a very unreasonable and unfair result and it pains me that we have to deal with the center-right government, supported by the DPP, for another four years,” Lykketoft said, adding that he planned to resign as head of the Social Democratic Party, which suffered its worst election defeat since 1973.

With all votes counted, election authorities said Rasmussen’s Liberal party, coalition Conservatives and far-right Danish People’s Party (DPP) would have 95 of the 179 seats in the new parliament.

The three parties, which held 94 seats in the outgoing parliament, needed 90 seats to be assured of a majority.

The count allotted 80 parliamentary seats to Denmark’s four left-leaning opposition parties, the Social Democrats, the Radical Party, the Socialist People’s Party and the Unity List, who held 77 seats in the outgoing parliament.

The Social Democrats, who dominated Denmark’s political scene for most of last century, lost five seats in the election, dropping to 47 parliamentary seats.

The Liberal Party meanwhile saw its number of seats reduced by four, to 52, but it remains Denmark’s largest party.

The results mirror opinion polls over recent weeks that suggested that Denmark’s healthy economy along with a freeze on taxes would help secure another term for the coalition.

Denmark’s immigration policy, perhaps the most restrictive in Europe, is also believed to have drawn many voters to Rasmussen.

Influenced by the DPP, the government has implemented a slew of restrictions, including delaying refugees’ eligibility for permanent residence permits from three years to seven, restricting asylum conditions for conscientious objectors and persecuted homosexuals, and reducing welfare payments for new immigrants to make Denmark a less attractive destination.

Going forward, the Scandinavian country’s immigration restrictions could tighten further after the DPP won two additional seats in Tuesday’s election, boosting its parliamentary strength to 24.

“This is the immigration policy we will continue conducting . . . It works. We have no immediate plans of changing it,” Rasmussen told reporters after declaring victory.

This is bad news for Denmark’s immigrant population, which is already complaining of increased racism and hostility towards “non-Danes”.

“The whole climate is more hostile due to the government and the DPP’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. There’s no doubt people say things today that they would have been criticized for 10 years ago,” Bibi Amina, a 26-year-old law student of Pakistani origin but born in Denmark, told AFP after voting in one of Copenhagen’s largest immigrant neighborhoods, Noerrebro.

Almost five percent of the 5.4 million people in Denmark are immigrants. The figure reaches eight percent if those who have acquired Danish citizenship are included.

One issue largely absent from the campaign was the government’s controversial decision to participate in the US-led Iraq war, something a clear majority of Danes are opposed to.

“The leftist parties . . . tried to bring this issue center stage in the campaign . . . but the media didn’t follow,” political scientist Hans Joergen Nielsen told AFP.

After polling stations closed on Tuesday, voting authorities estimated that 84.4 percent of Denmark’s approximately four million eligible voters had cast their ballot, down from the 87.1 percent who voted in the last general elections in 2001 elections.

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