Support for Denmark’s anti-immigration Danish People’s Party has soared in the wake of Muslim protests against cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, an opinion poll shows.
Backing for the DPP is up 4.9 points since elections a year ago to 18.2 percent, a poll of 1,124 Danes by Megafon for broadcaster TV2 on Feb. 23 showed. The Liberal-Conservative government’s support fell 1.9 points to 37.4 percent and backing for the opposition Social Democrats fell 3.7 points to 22.1 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 1-3 percentage points.
The 11-year-old DPP, which in 2002 compared Islam to a “plague,” may overtake the Social Democrats as Denmark’s second-biggest party, said Roger Buch, associate professor of political science at the Danish School of Journalism in Aarhus. The increase in support for the DPP may cause a dilemma for the government, which relies on DPP backing in parliament.
“We’re witnessing a shift in the Danish political landscape,” Buch said. “This can, without a doubt, be attributed to the whole Muhammad cartoon debate.”
Muslims across the globe are protesting against cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in the biggest daily, Jyllands—Posten, in September. Demonstrations erupted last month after a Danish Muslim delegation went to the Middle East to rally support against the government for not censuring the paper.
‘Meat and Potatoes’
Pia Kjaersgaard, leader and founder of the People’s Party, has said members of the delegation should be tried for treason and should lose their Danish residence permits. She has also demanded that imams sign declarations of loyalty toward Denmark.
“The Danish People’s Party has been able to tell people, just look, we were right all along,” said Lars Bille, associate professor at Copenhagen University in a Feb. 14 interview.
Kjaersgaard is addressing “the meat and potatoes voters, and that demographic is very comfortable with what she’s saying,” said Henrik Qvortrup, former press secretary to Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and political commentator, in a Feb. 11 interview with Danmarks Radio television network.
Still, the coalition government may be looking for a way out of its alliance with the DPP, said Qvortrup and Bille.
“There’s been a reluctance in the government to be dependent on the Danish People’s Party, and they are interested in freeing themselves of that tie,” Bille said.
The DPP has a history of insulting Islam. Parliamentarian and priest Jesper Langballe in 2002 compared it with Nazism, calling it a “plague” in Europe.
Threat to Freedom
Finance spokesman Kristian Thulesen Dahl in 2001 called Islam “the greatest threat to freedom since communism,” while Kjaersgaard in 1999 said immigrants arrive in Denmark “with male chauvinism, ritual slaughtering, female circumcision and clothes that subjugate women, all of which belong in the darkest middle ages.”
Immigration growth has slowed by more than a third since the People’s Party-backed government took office in November 2001, according to Statistics Denmark. Denmark’s Muslim population numbers about 200,000 or 3.7 percent.
The government may ignore the DPP and relax parts of its immigration policy. Integration Minister Rikke Hvilshoej on Jan. 28 said Denmark should make it easier for highly educated immigrants to enter the country. Hvilshoej two weeks earlier also filed a proposal that would make it easier for foreign residents and Danes to bring in their non-Danish spouses.
The government may seek an alliance with the opposition Social Liberals, according to Qvortrup, after Social Liberal spokesman, Naser Khader, who was born in Syria, backed Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s refusal to apologize for the cartoons and said local imams who criticized the government didn’t represent the majority of Muslims in Denmark.
Khader’s “views make the party appealing to both classic, politically correct voters and to those deep inside the conservative line,” Qvortrup said. “Naser Khader can get away with saying a lot of” critical things about Muslims “ because he has the right skin color. It’s as simple as that.”
“It’s going to be easier for the Social Liberals to find common ground with the Liberal-Conservatives,” Qvortrup told Danmarks Radio. “And it might well be a welcome relief for them after many years of a political drought” in their alliance with the Social Democrats.
A Liberal-Conservative Social Liberal government was last formed in 1988.
The government will have to seek a parliamentary majority without the anti-European Union DPP as it targets euro adoption. Plans to limit public spending growth are also at odds with DPP policy, which targets increased spending on old-age care.
The biggest losers in the cartoon furor have been the Social Democrats, the Megafon poll shows. The party, which suffered its worst defeat in 30 years in the February 2005 election, is in an “existential crisis,” Buch said.
“The Social Democratic project was in effect achieved 40 years ago,” Buch said. “In the meantime, there’s a broad political consensus backing the Danish welfare model, meaning the Social Democrats don’t have their own project. They’re in an extremely bad situation.”
Denmark is due to hold its next general election in 2009. The Liberal-Conservative government and its allies were re-elected in February 2005 with a 54.3 percent majority. The Social Democrats were in government for 35 of the last 53 years, according to the Web site of the Danish parliament.