Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Red-Green Alliance on the Danish Election

By Inger V. Johansen and Line Barfod
September 20, 2011 

The result of the parliamentary elections in Denmark means that the right-wing government of the last ten years has finally been ousted. A new government will be formed under the leadership of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the leader of the Social Democrats. The core parties of this government will be the Social Democrats and the Socialist People's Party (SF), who for some years have formed a close partnership with the aim of strengthening the possibilities for an alternative government.

These elections are historical: For the first time a woman will be the Prime Minister of a Danish government. For the first time SF will be in government.

There are, however, also drawbacks: It was a very narrow victory: The opposition parties achieved merely 89 seats out of the 179 seats of the Danish "Folketing" (parliament), with the right-wing parties at 86 seats. There are also four North Atlantic (Greenland and Faroe islands) seats. And the two main new government coalition partners both lost seats in the elections - the Social Democrats one seat (now 44 seats and 24.9% of the votes, which is the worst election result in more than 100 years) and SF seven seats (now 16 seats and 9.2% - down from 13%) - a big loss.

But we are happy to announce that our party Enhedslisten/the Red-Green Alliance was one of the big winners of the elections with an increase in seats from 4 to 12 with 6.7% (up from 2.2%) of the votes. The other party winning the elections was the centre opposition party "Radikale Venstre" (Liberal Democrats") also gaining 8 seats and now with 17 seats (9.5% - up from 5.1%). What characterized these two parties were the clear and unambiguous political lines of their campaigns, which seem to have attracted voters in big numbers.

The Red-Green Alliance stuck to a radical left position: a clear defence of the social rights of working people, against reducing and removing early retirement and raising pension age and opposing the consistent deterioration of the rules regulating unemployment benefits, policies of the previous government, and for a radical climate plan investing in new green jobs, and decent asylum and other policies relating to immigrants and refugees.

The "Liberal democrats" share with us the same policies with regard to immigrants and refugees - which indicates as well another consequence of these elections, which is that the extreme right-wing Danish People's Party is now reduced (down 3 seats to 22, and 12.3%) and their significant influence over Danish politics has been eliminated. The “immigrant” issue is not a strong part of the political debate any more.

However, the "Liberal democrats" are also a party with neo-liberal economic policies (very similar to those of the previous right-wing government) and they will expect to enter government with the Social Democrats and SF. With its huge increase in seats the Red-Green Alliance will also demand a significant influence on the policies of the coming government, although the Red-Green Alliance has always made clear that it does not wish to participate in a new alternative government, as we know that the policies of such a government will differ from our positions in crucial ways. Our party remains a party supporting an alternative government, led by the Social Democrats, and the formation of such a government will depend on our seats. We would prefer a government consisting of only the Social Democrats and SF, but this option is not viable.

It is obvious from this and the election result in general that the conditions for forming the new government and agreeing on common policies will be difficult.

Another drawback in the elections was the fact that "Venstre" (the Liberal party), the main right-wing party of the previous coalition government, also kept its position as the largest Danish political party with 26.7% of the votes and 47 seats - but this was very much as it attracted the votes of the Conservative Party, a previous coalition partner, but also the biggest loser of the elections as this party lost over half of its seats (down to eight seats from 18 and now only 4.9% of the votes). Besides this a new neo-liberal party, Liberal Alliance, formed during the last parliamentary period, also had a good election result (5% and 9 seats up from 4) - but as well attracting votes from the Conservative Party.

We in the Red-Green Alliance expected to gain seats in these elections but are truly surprised that we achieved a tripling of our seats. This of course places a huge responsibility on our shoulders. We have advanced - in some places significantly - in nearly all of the constituencies in the country. This undoubtedly shows the level of popular anger and distress with the policies of the right-wing government, which have led to a deterioration of public welfare for many people. Recent figures also show that the polarization of the Danish population with regard to income has increased more during the last ten years than in any other EU member country.

But there are other factors explaining the electoral success of the Red-Green Alliance: SF has moved into a close partnership with the Social Democrats and has more or less accepted Social Democratic policies, creating increasing disaffection among a large number of the party's electorate. SF's loss of seats indicates this. Another important factor is the role of Johannne Schmidt-Nielsen, a young female MP of the Red-Green Alliance and leading figure in the election campaign, who did extremely well and achieved huge popularity.

We have also worked in a very dedicated manner on our communications - so that everybody knew that we fight for the rights of the working people. Lastly it should be added that our party has made conscious and good efforts over the last years to strengthen the party after the last disastrous elections in November 2007.

Inger V. Johansen is a member of the European Affairs Committee of the Red-Green Alliance. Line Barfod is a former MP for the party and a member of its executive board.

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