Category Archives: Greenland
Parliamentary elections were held in Greenland on March 12, 2013. All 31 members of Greenlandic Parliament (Inatsisartut/Landsting), elected for four year terms by proportional representation were up for reelection. Greenland is a constituent country within Denmark. It was granted home rule in 1979, and was granted extensive autonomy and self-rule in 2009 following a referendum in 2008. Denmark retains control of foreign affairs, national defense, the police force, the judiciary and monetary policy (Denmark provides a block grant which still accounts for over half of public spending by the regional government). Greenlandic is now the sole official language, and the regional government has full control over the island’s rich subsoil resources. Despite being part of Denmark, Greenland is not part of the EU – it withdrew from the EEC in 1985.
The vast majority (85-88%) of Greenland’s population are Inuits, who speak Greenlandic, an Eskimo-Aleut language. The remaining 12% or so are European Danish immigrants. Huge swathes of Greenland are covered by a vast ice sheet, although climate change is slowly reducing the size of the ice sheet. All settlements are concentrated along the ice-free coast, and almost all of these settlements are located along the western coast. Most of remote northeastern Greenland is unincorporated, forming the Northeast Greenland National Park.
Greenland was colonized by Denmark beginning in the 1700s, and was ruled by Danish colonial administrators until 1953 (it was occupied by the US during World War II). During this time, Danish was the language of the colonial administrators and a small local elite (Danes born in Greenland or assimilated Inuits), while Greenlandic remained widely used in small Inuit hamlets and was taught in schools and used in churches. After Greenland was integrated into Denmark as a county in 1953, a modernization campaign was launched resulting in major migration, often only semi-voluntary, from hamlets to larger urban centres. The government also promoted the Danish language, pushing an aggressive ‘danishification’ campaign which saw Danish rather than Greenlandic taught in schools. Greenland finally gained home rule in 1973. The new regional government reversed the linguistic policies, instead driving a Greenlandization/inuitization campaign which replaced Danish with Greenlandic in schools. In 1994, Danish was relegated to a foreign language in all schools outside the capital, Nuuk, which has a large Danish minority.
Most Greenlanders speak both Greenlandic and Danish, some Inuits even speak only Greenlandic. Nevertheless, Danish is still widely used in business and administration and it remains associated with the upper social strata in local society. Unilingual Greenlandic speakers are often at the lowest level, with poor education and either unemployed or with a low-paying job. Bilinguals and unilingual Danes tend to form the business, political, social and cultural elites. The local population faces challenges such as low education, a lack of opportunities, low wages, unemployment and crime.
Greenland’s natural governing party between 1979 and 2009 was Siumut (Forward), a left-wing social democratic party which had led the charge for home rule in the 1970s. Being in government so long, it was accussed of corruption and nepotism in administration. Such issues contributed to its defeat in the 2009 election, won by Inuit Ataqatigiit (Inuit Community/Community of the People), a socialist and separatist which was founded in 1976. The IA’s leader, Kuupik Kleist, became Prime Minister.
The Democrats (Demokraatit) and Atassut (Feeling of Community) both lost heavily in the 2009 election, losing about 10% of the vote apiece from the 2005 elections. The social liberal Democrats are a predominantly Danish party which oppose independence, most of its leaders are Danes but it does not receive homogeneous support from Danish expats in Greenland. It won 16% in 2002 and then placed second, with 22.8% in 2005, but its support fell to 12.7%. Atassut, a right-wing and agrarian party which is similarly opposed to independence, used to be the main centre-right rival to Siumut in the 1980s, winning over 40% of the vote. But since the 1990s the party has been in free fall, having seen its support shrink from 30% in 1991-1995 to barely 11% and 3 seats in 2009. The smaller Kattusseqatigiit (Association of Candidates, K) has been represented in Parliament since 1995, peaking at 4 seats in 1999 and one seat since then. It is primarily a personalist party led by Anthon Frederiksen, the former mayor of Ilulissat. IA formed a coalition with the Democrats and K after the last election.
Greenland has rich and, to a certain extent, untapped mineral riches – both onshore and offshore. Oil companies have already spent billions exploring for large reserves of offshore oil. On land, mining companies are clamoring for access to gold and iron ore deposits; but also large and unexploited ‘rare earth’ elements which are key ingredients in modern smartphones or weapons. The IA government has stuck to its zero-tolerance policy on uranium mining, which bans the mining or sell of radioactive resources such as uranium. For a remote and sparsely populated country economically dependent on fishing and its former colonial master, Greenland is now swept up by the winds of change as it finds itself at the heart of a mineral boom with major geopolitical ramifications. Foreign mining companies, including giants such as Alcoa, London Mining PLC, are battling for mining concessions. China has taken a particular interest in Greenland, especially in its rare earth reserves. Although China currently has 90% of the world’s rare earth elements, they will not be able to keep up with Chinese, let alone global, demand in the long-term. The EU and Denmark are concerned by China’s efforts to gain a foothold in Greenland’s economy and the Arctic, and have pressured – unsuccessfully – the Greenlandic government to block Chinese access to rare earth elements, some of which are currently explored by an Australian-based mining company.
The Greenlandic Parliament approved the so-called ‘big-scale law’ on mining a few weeks ago. The law makes it easier and cheaper for foreign mining companies to start large projects in Greenland. Under the new law, any project worth over 5 billion Danish kroner would require a license from the regional government and would need to undertake an environmental and social impact inquiry. The most controversial aspect of the new law is that it allows foreign companies to contract cheaper foreign workers. The law requires that the foreign workers be paid at the local minimum wage and would be entitled to local labour rights (right to strike, collective bargaining), but because the law also allows employers to deduct costs such as insurance and food from their wages, they would likely end up being paid less than local workers. That part of the law, however, is in limbo as it will require approval from the Danish Parliament, which retains control over immigration policy. Proponents of the law argue that the law and the new mineral boom will significantly reduce Greenland’s dependence on Danish grants and diversify the country’s economy. Opponents are concerned about the environmental and social impacts of mining development and control by foreign mining giants, but also criticize the speed at which the law was pushed through. The ‘importation’ of 500-700 foreign workers in a country of 57,000 has also raised concerns amongst the local population.
Turnout was 74.2%, up 2.9% since 2009.
Siumut (S) 42.8% (+16.3%) winning 14 seats (+5)
Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) 34.4% (-9.3%) winning 11 seats (-3)
Atassut (A) 8.1% (-2.7%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Partii Inuit (PI) 6.4% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Democrats (D) 6.2% (-6.5%) winning 2 seats (-2)
Association of Candidates (K) 1.1% (-2.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Others 0% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Four years after being kicked out of office in monumental fashion, Siumut, led by Aleqa Hammond, roared back to power in Greenland. The party increased its vote share by 16%, taking 43% of the vote and 14 seats while the incumbent IA won only 34%, down over 9 points, and 11 seats. The governing IA-D-K coalition also lots its majority, with both of its coalition partners losing votes and seats.
Mining and the prospect of foreign workers were major issues in this elections and they contributed to Siumut’s victory. Most politicians agree on the exploration of mineral resources, but the big-scale law has stirred controversy. Siumut argued that there was too much secrecy about the various mining projects and found the government too eager to push through the law and too soft on foreign companies. Siumut ran on a populist platform which promised to demand more royalties on resources and forcing tougher rules on potential foreign investors. It also tapped into concerns that the new law was giving too much powers to foreign companies.
Inuit fishermen and seal hunters, the traditional backbone of the old economy, feel increasingly marginalized and forgotten with all these new developments. They oppose new fishing quotas, poor market access for seal skins and restrictions over harpoon guns for whale hunting. IA was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to take heed of their concerns; while Siumut promised that it would work to make economic development ‘fairer’ for all, city dwellers and villagers alike. Siumut, however, does not share IA’s steadfast opposition to uranium mining and has said that it would be open to allowing uranium mining if the ore contains a maximum 0.1% uranium oxide..
Cultural concerns also played a role in the vote. The potential ‘massive’ influx of foreign, predominantly Chinese, workers as part of new contracts (including a concession to London Mining PLC which would supply iron ore to China and employ Chinese foreign workers). In a small and largely ethnically homogeneous country, the prospect of 500-700 cheap foreign workers moving in – even on a temporary basis – scared many, who feared that they will take jobs away from locals and undermine Greenland’s ancient hunting and fishing tradition.
IA likely lost some votes to a new party, Partii Inuit, a very left-wing and separatist party formed recently by IA dissidents. The Inuit Party were the most vocal in their opposition to the big-scale law, calling for a referendum on the issue.
On the map, Siumut won every ‘city’ (the second level divisions behind the 3 municipalities) with the exception of Aasiaat (the fifth largest city), Illoqqortoormiut on the east coast (where Atassut won) and Nuuk (the largest city and capital). Siumut swept every other part of the country, likely benefiting from fishermen and hunters’ opposition to the big-scale law. Interestingly, IA did not lose as much in Nuuk – it won first place by a mile and its vote only fell by 5%. The capital city is booming and rapidly changing, benefiting from the mineral boom. Perhaps urban voters in Greenland’s largest city (over 15,000 people) were more favourable to the incumbent government’s mining policies, which has brought them tangible benefits?
Northeastern Greenland, in blue on the map, is covered by the world’s largest national park and has no permanent inhabitants. Unfortunately, polar bears and seals can’t vote. The small blue dot on the northwestern coast is Thule Air Base, a US Air Force base.
Greenland is changing extremely rapidly now, and its economy and society will likely be transformed by the mineral boom. The new status in 2009 brought the island ever closer to full independence, and many have argued that the mining boom will allow Greenland to become more autonomous from Denmark and move towards full independence. Yet, the transition to either full political independence or economic diversification is problematic. The current mining boom could allow Greenland to become a functioning independent state, but many Greenlanders are asking – at what price? There is much reluctance to sacrifice traditions or the old economy in favour of sovereignty, and many fear that Greenland could be exchanging Danish rule for rule by the special interests.
Legislative elections were held in Denmark on September 15, 2011. All 179 members of Denmark’s unicameral parliament, the Folketing, were up for reelection. I previewed the contenders and issues at stake in this election in a preview post a few days ago. Denmark has been governed for the past ten-years by a centre-right coalition led by the Venstre (Liberal Party) and Conservatives and supported most controversially by the far-right Danish People’s Party and, to a lesser extent, by the Liberal Alliance. This coalition is led since 2009 by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.
Turnout was 87.74%, slightly higher than in 2007. Denmark has very high turnout, even though it doesn’t have mandatory voting (I suppose its turnout is even higher than some places where they have loosely enforced mandatory voting!). The results are as follows:
V – Venstre/Liberals 26.73% (+0.47%) winning 47 seats (+1)
A – Social Democrats 24.81% (-0.66%) winning 44 seats (-1)
O – Danish People’s Party 12.32% (-1.54%) winning 22 seats (-3)
B – Radical Left/Social Liberals 9.50% (+4.38%) winning 17 seats (+8)
F – Socialist People’s Party 9.20% (-3.84%) winning 16 seats (-7)
Ø – Unity List 6.68% (+4.51%) winning 12 seats (+8)
Y – Liberal Alliance 4.98% (+2.17%) winning 9 seats (+4)
C – Conservative People’s Party 4.94% (-5.45%) winning 8 seats (-10)
K – Christian Democrats 0.79% (-0.08%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Independent candidacies 0.05% (+0.03%) winning 0 seats (±0)
North Atlantic mandates 4 (3 left, 1 right)
Left (ABFØ) 50.19% (+4.40%) winning 89 seats (+8) [92 with North Atlantic]
Right (VOCIK) 49.76% (-4.43%) winning 86 seats (-8) [87 with North Atlantic]
The left has won Denmark. The right-wing VCO era, which began in 2001, has been closed. Those are the headlines of this election. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the leader of the Social Democrats since 2005, will become Prime Minister at the helm of the first left-wing government since 2001. The election was very closely fought and it was mildly suspenseful even on election night, but in the end, a combination of voter fatigue with an old government, an economic crisis and the decrepitude of the government’s junior partner all came together to give victory to the left.
When you look at the results in more detail, last night’s victory is much more the victory of the Danish left than the victory of the Social Democrats – in Denmark as in the rest of Scandinavia very much a dominant party up until the 1990s. Indeed, this victory could be considered a pyrrhic victory as the main left-wing party won a very poor result. The Social Democrats continued their slow inexorable decline to win their worst result since 1903! A fact that is so significant that even the usually useless generalizations of the foreign mass media pointed it out. The poor showing of the Social Democrats reflects the general uninspirational/boring image it projects, a problem faced by most of its European counterparts. Helle Thorning-Schmidt is not particularly charismatic or wildly popular and ever since her 2005 election to SD’s leadership she has juggled with the discontent of SD’s left-wing which is hardly fond of the centrist Thorning-Schmidt, derogatorily nicknamed “Gucci Helle” for her apparent un-socialist taste in high fashion and her comfortable middle-class upbringing. The tax evasion case of her British husband, Neil Kinnock’s son, did not help matters much either. If the left won last night, it won because of the very strong showing of two of its components which rather ironically are located at the right and left extremities of this broad “ABFØ” coalition.
The Social Liberals (or Radicals) led by Margrethe Vestager was the first major winner of the elections. Her party won its best result since 1973 and emerges as the second-largest force behind the Social Democrats in the new left-wing governing coalition. The Radicals, who had done nearly as well in 2005, had done poorly in 2007 when a lot of their intellectual, urban clientele (the so-called ‘café latte’ electorate) defected to the Socialists (SF) who in 2007 did extremely well with that crowd and propelled them to a strong 13% showing. These bourgeois-bohemians are quite left-wing on issues such as morals, the environment, immigration and integration but they’re not as left-wing on issues such as taxation, maintaining the juicy advantages of the welfare state and most fiscal matters. The Radicals appealed to them with a clear and coherent program and record on those issues, and in doing so managed to win over the moderate wing of the 2007 SF electorate (well, most of it).
At the other end of the left-wing spectrum, the Unity List-Red Greens (Ø) have been kicking since the late 1980s but they had never won over 3.4% of the vote or 6 seats. In 2007, they did rather poorly winning only 2.2% and 4 seats. The Unity List had been formed in 1988 as an electoral alliance of the old communists (DKP), trots, Maoists and socialists. In recent years, they have moved far closer to environmentalism and similar hip left-wing issues (apparently enough for the clueless foreign media to call them “the Greens”) though still maintaining some rather dogmatic left-wing positions such as the nationalization of Lego and Maersk, alleged support for the FARC and PFLP and the goal of a utopic “communist society without classes”. Recently, the party has modernized without, it claims, moving right-wards: a little comment aimed at SF and SD. The charisma, likeability and thus popularity of Ø’s unofficial leader, 27-year old Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen has also helped matters quite a bit. She won the second-highest number of “personal votes” in the election after Lars Løkke. At the same time, SF’s shift towards the right and “responsibility” alienated some of SF’s more left-wing voters and drove them into the arms of Ø.
Within the left, SF was, as we’ve seen, the other major loser. It had done very well in 2007 (13%) and its fantastic result in the 2009 European elections (15%) made another strong result this year very much a possibility. But SF peaked too early, failed to cash in on the popularity of its leader Villy Søvndal and alienated its left by moving more towards the right and general political moderation. Its legislative performance on topics such as immigration also left much to be desired and contributed to the alienation of its rather broad 2007 coalition which included, most remarkably in Copenhagen (SF had won most of the inner city in 2007), academics, artists, young professionals, Muslism and the rest of the ‘café latte’. Ironically, despite its poor showing, SF might now be more than ever in its history in a position of power and influence. Indeed, for the first time in its history, it will likely enter government with Søvndal a potential finance minister.
On the right, the governing Liberals (V) had a surprisingly good election for themselves. They will not be re-entering government, but they held their ground remarkably well and remained both the largest party in the Folkting and marginally increased its vote share (and won an additional seat) – despite the fact that their incumbent leader, Lars Løkke, does not have the charisma of his famous predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. V benefited from the collapse of its junior partner in government since 2001, the Conservatives. The gain of C’s voters about compensated for other loses by V, mostly to SD. V gained the most ground in Zealand around Copenhagen’s affluent northern suburbs where C traditionally does best. In contrast, in lost ground mostly to SD in Jutland, where the party system is less atomized than it is around Copenhagen.
What did in the right (in part) was the collapse of the Conservatives, who lost over half of their votes and seats and won their worst result in their history with only 4.9% and eight place overall (instead of fifth in 2007). The Conservatives performed badly in government and their cacophonous and incompetent leadership brought this electoral armageddon upon itself. Its new leader since January 2011, Lars Barfoed, failed to lift the party up from the ditch in which his hapless predecessor Lene Espersen had driven C into.
The Conservatives found their affluent anti-tax suburban base hijacked in sort by the Liberal Alliance, the old New Alliance, which under Anders Samuelsen drove to the right and adopted a very libertarian/classical liberal economic agenda and in doing so managed to appeal to part of C’s affluent base in addition to younger libertarian types. In contrast with the Naser Khader New Alliance in 2007 which had been a primarily inner-city liberal party concentrated in downtown Copenhagen, the more right-wing Liberal Alliance under Samuelsen became a suburban/north Copenhagen party. It indeed did best where C used to do best, winning, for example, its best result (10.2%) in Gentofte, a Conservative stronghold since the turn of the last century. C lost other voters to V and the Radicals.
For the first time since its foundation, the far-right Danish People’s Party (DF) which had been so influential and powerful since 2001 because of its parliamentary support for the VC government, lost votes. It lost only marginally, from 13.9% to 12.3%, but it still lost ground nonetheless. DF’s growth was checked in 2010 when it voted in favour of an austerity budget and, in doing so, reneged the party’s left-wing economic views (which are left-wing as long as you’re white). The left would say that it all shows how hollow and fake all of DF’s apparent left-wing economics really is, and for some of DF’s working-class base it did just that. There is also the matter that in an election fought almost entirely over economics and not over immigration (the last three elections, especially 2001, all saw immigration play a major role) is not favourable to a party like DF which takes most of its political capital from its anti-immigration positions. This should not be interpreted as meaning that there is a general move back towards pro-immigration and integration positions in the European country with some of the toughest immigration regulations. There isn’t. Helle Thorning-Schmidt pledged that her government would uphold or only slightly modify the bulk of the VC government’s tough immigration laws (passed with DF support, of course) most notably the famous (infamous?) 24-year rule.
The government’s majority of 3 out of the 175 Danish seats will be increased to a majority of 5 with the North Atlantic mandates from Greenland and the Faroe Island, the Danish self-governing territories in the North Atlantic Ocean. In Greenland, the governing socialist separatist Inuit Ataqatigiit won 42.28% against 36.67% for the social democratic Siumut. Both of these parties, Greenland’s two main parties, will hold their seats (one each). Compared to 2007, that is a major increase in the vote of the governing Inuit Ataqatigiit (+8.8%) but also Siumut (+5.3%). The agrarian Feeling of Community won 7.46%, down from 18.9%. The unionist Democrats won 12.5%, down from 16.2%. In the Faroe Islands, the governing Union Party (right-wing unionist) increased its vote share by 7% to win 30.8% and hold its seat. The separatist Republic Party, which had won 25% in 2007 and first place, lost 6% (winning 19.4%) and lost its seat to the unionist Social Democrats who won 21%, up marginally from 2007. The separatist People’s Party and Self-Government Party also lost support as did the unionist Centre Party. The overall distribution of mandates there thus remains 3-1 for the left, but rather 3-1 anti-independence instead of a 2-2 separatist/anti-independence split in 2007.
The dominant patterns of Danish electoral geography remained similar. V did best in rural southern Jutland, a conservative and religious area. It did, however, lose some support there to the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats in Jutland did best in the urban (and historically industrial) centres of Aalborg, Randers and Aarhus. It did, however, do rather poorly in its old strongholds in the Triangle area (Vejle-Kolding-Fredericia) in southeastern Jutland where it had been swept out of power in the 2009 local elections by V. On Fyn, the left’s base is traditionally the city of Odense. On Lolland (yes, that’s the name of the island: there is also a city on Fyn called Middelfart), SD gained back some ground lost to SF in 2007 thanks to a popular local SF candidate. Lolland is rural, but the sugar industry on the island is quite labour-intensive and has led to a more working-class feel than one could expect. The city of Nakskov is also a major harbour.
Copenhagen does contrast starkly with other Scandinavian capitals such as Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki because of its very stark lean to the left. It is perhaps because unlike those cities, Copenhagen has traditionally concentrated Danish industry and bee far more of an industrial city than a bourgeois city like Stockholm. In Copenhagen district this year, the Social Democrats emerged on top – relatively speaking – with 19% with the Radicals and Ø taking 16.7% and 16.6% respectively. V placed fourth with 15.2%, while SF lost a lot of ground (-8.5%) and won just 12.4%. You can find two great maps of Copenhagen here and here. In 2007, SF had dominated throughout the downtown core of the city (most of the -bro districts) while the Social Democrats (who lost 5% in Copenhagen this year) performed better in the more lower middle-class suburban areas outside the downtown core. That was normality, more or less, before this year’s massive atomization of the vote. The Social Democrats kept their hold on the working-class suburban districts on the outer edges of the city (where DF polls well), while V increased its support at C’s expense and did relatively well in the more old bourgeois areas of the city. The collapse of the S-SF vote benefited both the Radicals and Ø who took in various parts of the 2007 SF coalition in the city. The Radicals did best in the more upscale of these hip downtown districts, such as Indre By or Osterbro. In contrast, Ø did best in the less upscale and more ethnically diverse downtown districts. Most significantly, it absolutely dominated Nørrebro with 27.6% against 20% for RV. Nørrebro is a troubled and very ethnically diverse (a large Muslim population) district filled with artists and other intellectual hip types. Simply put, the epitome in sorts of the demographic which voted Ø this year. Ø also did well in Christianshavn (26%), a gentrified bohemian neighborhood which most notably includes Freetown Christiania.
Copenhagen’s suburbs are equally as diverse. The western and southern suburbs are some of S’s strongest areas on the island of Zealand, and they are heavily left-wing. The southern suburban communities such as Brøndby, Hvidovre and Ishøj are poor, working-class areas while the western suburbs such as Gladsaxe, Ballerup and Herlev are more lower middle-class residential communities though equally as left-wing as the southern suburbs. DF performs strongly here, but the hip left-wing parties (SF, RV, Ø) don’t perform as strongly. The northern suburbs are the stereotypical affluent bourgeois residential suburbs, and traditionally most of the bourgeoisie in and around Copenhagen have voted Conservative. The collapse of C’s vote this year benefited both V, which increased its vote share by a bit in these areas, but also the Liberal Alliance which won its best results (8-10%) in these northern suburbs (in Copenhagen, the Liberal Alliance’s best districts are also more bourgeois and affluent than they are hip or café latte).
Helle Thorning-Schmidt will become the first woman Prime Minister of Denmark, and the election has been noted in Denmark as the “victory of the three women”: Thorning-Schmidt, Vestager (RV leader) and Schmidt-Nielsen (Ø’s top gun). While in the past left-wing governments in Denmark, the last of which governed between 1993 and 2001, had been formed solely by S and the centrist Radicals, it is quite likely that in a break from the past, SF will enter government for the first time while the Radical’s participation in government is not ensured. Thorning-Schmidt and Søvndal have both moved their respective parties closer together, a move which led to the gradual moderation (or rightwards shift) of SF to make it more acceptable to the broader public and financial milieus. With SF in government, and Søvndal the likely finance minister, it is not at all certain that the centrist Radicals, historically the kingmakers or hinge party of the Danish political system, will be entering government themselves. The Radicals could find themselves backing the government from the outside. Thorning-Schmidt will need to play a careful balancing act between the vastly different economic views of her three allies: the centrist Radicals, hardly fond of high taxation or the old welfare state model; Ø far more left-wing on economic matters. Ø will not (obviously) take seats in government, but could find itself playing the role that DF played for the VC governments: a more radical party pressuring the government to move in its direction. The risk for confrontation between these factions of the new governing coalition is high. The fear is that it could lead to snap elections before the end of Parliament’s four-year mandate. The Radicals and the Conservatives, in theory rivals, moved closer to a deal during the election campaign. SF and Radicals also don’t get along very well: during the campaign, SF warned that a vote for the Radicals is a vote for tax cuts on the wealthy and spending cuts. Interestingly, SF apparently seeks to counter this right-wing influence by working with DF on economic issues, on which the far-right is allegedly left-leaning.
Perhaps the risk for confrontation is much overstated. Ø will certainly be a pressure agent on the government to compel it to move left-wards, but besides them the other parties in the coalition are all rather moderate forces. Thorning-Schmidt won the leadership of the party in 2005 on a centrist platform and has moved S closer to the right on issues such as immigration and security. Her centrist policies, furthermore, have been accepted by SF without much resistance, in a bid by SF to appear more responsible especially on fiscal issues. She has pledged to keep the bulk of the outgoing government’s tough immigration policies (though the Radicals and SF are opposed), supports the government’s customs control and backs Danish military participation in Afghanistan and Libya. The main changes are to be expected in fiscal matters. Instead of austerity, the left prefers to increase spending on the welfare state and compensate those spending increases with tax hikes on the wealthiest or new environmental, health or traffic taxes. The right warned that such a policy would run up the deficit and ruin the country’s economic competitiveness. Higher taxation could face resistance from the Radicals, but it theoretically could receive cross-coalition support from DF.
Elections to the Folketing, the unicameral Danish Parliament, will be held on September 15. Denmark has been governed since 2001 by a centre-right coalition, which is famous for its dependence on a far-right party for parliamentary support. The current Prime Minister is Lars Løkke Rasmussen, in office since 2009 when his predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen became the Secretary-General of NATO. Notably, the last name of the Danish Prime Minister since 1993 has been ‘Rasmussen’, though none of the three are related to each other.
How does it work?
The Folketing has 179 seats. There are 175 seats in Denmark, while the Danish dependencies of the Faroe Islands and Greenland are represented by two members each. The four ‘overseas’ seats are usually called the “North Atlantic mandates”. 135 of the 175 Danish seats are elected by a modified form of d’Hondt PR in ten multi-member constituencies where voters may vote for a party list, one of the candidates on a party list or (rarely) an independent candidate. The remaining 40 seats are compensatory mandates to equalize representation, and these are elected through Saint-Laguë PR. The threshold for the compensatory seats is 2%, making for a wide representation of parties in the Folketing. However, ballot access in laws in Denmark for non-parliamentary parties are quite tough: these parties must gather roughly 20,000 signatures in order to gain ballot access.
Danish parliamentary politics is unlike Westminster parliamentary politics. A government is not required to win a vote of confidence, and what matters is whether the legislature is against the government rather than for it. This means that minority governments are common and that governments must usually form majorities on a bill-by-bill basis.
Denmark, like Sweden or Norway, is a Scandinavian welfare state and historically a left-wing country dominated by the Social Democrats. In Denmark, the Social Democrats were the largest party in all elections between 1924 and 2001. Denmark is marked by its strong welfare state and its very high levels of taxation.
In Danish politics and everyday political lingo, each party is commonly referred to by a letter which it is assigned and which appears on ballots. A lot of these letters have little connection with the party’s actual name. I refer to both the party’s letter, its alternative abbreviation and its name in English (or Danish in some cases). For shorthand, I usually talk about parties using their letter or abbreviation.
Between 1924 and 2001, the largest party were the Social Democrats (A or S/SD) and the Social Democrats have governed between 1924 and 1926, 1929 and 1942, 1945, 1947 and 1950, 1953 and 1968, 1971 and 1973, 1975 and 1982 and most recently between 1993 and 2001. As such there are not quite as dominant as the Swedish Social Democratic Party which has governed for the bulk of the post-war era but they were close to being a dominant party. The Danish Social Democrats are more urban-based than their Swedish or Norwegian partners, in fact Copenhagen is a left-wing stronghold while Oslo and especially Stockholm are quite right-wing. Under the Poul Nyrup Rasmussen governments between 1993 and 2001, the Social Democrats experimented with a successful model of ‘flexicurity‘ which maintained the strong unemployment benefits with deregulation of labour laws. The shocking defeat of the Social Democrats in 2001 in which the party fell out of first place for the first time since 1924 was caused by an unpopular 1998 tax hike (to balance the books) but most importantly a post-9/11 mood swing against immigration. Since then, the Social Democrats have failed both to gain power or take back a symbolic first place. Instead, their results have progressively worsened: from 29% in 2001 to 25.5% in 2007. Like so many European social democratic parties these days, the Danish Social Democrats have been confused in their positions and failed to motivate the electorate. The current leader of the party, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the daughter-in-law of Neil Kinnock, is generally regarded as hapless and uninspiring. The main Social Democratic strongholds are Copenhagen, the lower middle-class/working-class suburbs of western Copenhagen, large cities such as Aarhus, Odense and Aalborb and finally northeastern Jutland.
The main right-wing party in Denmark has traditionally been Venstre (V), which is technically translated into English as “Left”. Which does not mean that V is remotely left-wing: the name Venstre emerged in the late nineteenth-century when V was the main progressive opposition to the Right (the Social Democrats being far-left back then). It is more commonly referred to in both English and Danish as the “Liberal Party”. Venstre was founded in 1870 as a Nordic agrarian party, advocating free trade and low taxes. It is usually the largest right-wing party, though it is not always the case (for example in the 1980s). In 1998, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, author of a book well-acclaimed in libertarian circles for expousing a minimal state with low taxes, became party leader and then Prime Minister in 2001 when V outpolled S for the first time since 1924. In power, V and Rasmussen moved away from its original theses of classical liberalism and although the Danish government since 2001 has implemented some major tax cuts, it has maintained the welfare state intact and not exactly reduced the size of government. The Liberals are generally perceived as being more fiscally responsible than the left. All V governments since 2001 have depended on the support of the far-right Danish People’s Party, which has resulted in some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe. The main V strongholds are rural, conservative southern Jutland and generally other rural areas. It is quite weak in Copenhagen, which has historically been a very weak zone for the rural-oriented V.
The Danish People’s Party (O or DF) was founded in 1995 by Pia Kjærsgaard but the direct roots of DF lie in the Progress Party (Frp), a right-wing populist party founded in 1972 by crazy lawyer Morgens Glistrup who claimed that he paid no taxes. The Frp supported radical tax cuts (abolishing the income tax), huge spending cuts (disbanding the Defense Ministry entirely) and eventually doing away with public servants. Frp surged to massive popularity in the so-called “landslide election” of 1973 in which five new parties entered parliament and in which Frp became the second largest party with 16% of the vote and 28 seats. Gradually the Frp moved away from the more radical positions, began to defend the welfare state against those ‘undeserving’ of receiving welfare (as such, it stole many votes from the left) and positioned itself against Muslim immigration. While Glistrup was in jail, the “pragmatic” (and more anti-immigration, populist) faction led by Pia Kjærsgaard took control of the party against the “fundies” led by Glistrup who refused any cooperation with other parties. Tensions continued, however, and the pragmatists quit the party to found DF in 1995. It won 7% in the 1998 elections and has seen its support grow unabatted since. Since 2001, DF has become crucial to the right-wing government in that its parliamentary support provides it with a majority. DF is very much anti-immigration (especially Muslim, of course) and against multiculturalism. Through its control of the government since 2001, DF is perhaps one of the most politically powerful far-right parties in Europe. Indeed, the government implemented some of the toughest immigration laws in Europe since 2001, the most notable of which is the “24-year law” intended to crack down on arranged marriages and family reunification. DF combines these very right-wing positions on immigration with left-wing positions on the welfare state, being a big defender of the welfare state, high social spending (on stuff like pensions) though, like Frp, it is very much against the so-called “welfare scrouges” (a lot of whom happen to be immigrants). DF won 13.8% in the 2007 elections and a record 15% in the 2009 European elections. It has lost some popularity since 2010 after it supported an austerity budget presented by the government. Its longtime leader, Pia Kjærsgaard, is probably the most controversial politician in Denmark.
The Socialist People’s Party (F or SF) was founded in 1959 by a former Communist leader (and CIA agent) who had been expelled from the DKP for opposing Russian intervention in Hungary in 1956. SF’s ideology is Scandinavian “popular socialism”, a variant of democratic socialism which intends to be a centrist middle-ground between communism and social democracy. In recent years, it has moderated its traditional euroscepticism and left-wing positions in order to become both more “green” ideology-wise and “responsible” policy-wise. SF, for example, is not a member of the European Left group in the European Parliament, instead sitting in the Green-EFA group. The party has been led since 2005 by Villy Søvndal, who has led the party to major successes in both the 2007 general and 2009 EU elections (13% and 15.6%). In a bid to make SF appear as a responsible party, it voted in favour of the government’s 2008 budget. Villy Søvndal also took some marked positions against radical clerical Muslim clerics, a move applauded by the right. SF has never actually been in government when the Social Democrats have governed, but they have supported various Social Democratic governments from outside (similarly to how DF props up the current government), most recently the Nyrup Rasmussen government between 1993 and 2001. SF is very strong in downtown Copenhagen (it won the bulk of the downtown core of the city), popular in artsy-liberal intellectual milieus (called the ‘café latte’ crowd in Denmark, similar to the ‘bobos’ in France). It is strong in other urban areas, but in contrast to S it is rather weak in Copenhagen suburbia or northeastern Jutland.
The Conservative People’s Party (C) was founded in 1915. The Conservatives have traditionally been the second-largest right-wing force but in the 1980s, they outpaced V for that role and in fact the Conservative Poul Schlüter governed the country between 1982 and 1993 with V as a junior party. Since then, however, C has struggled and polled only 10% in 2007. Its electoral fortunes are quite closely reversely correlated with that of V: it does well when V does poorly. C is the traditional governing partner for V, and all right-wing governments since 1950 have included C alongside V, often with C as a junior partner. In contrast to V, which in government has moderated its economic liberalism, C remains somewhat more economically liberal, supporting further tax cuts and eventually a flat tax (albeit a rather high flat tax). Traditionally, C has tended to be more nationalist and interventionist than V, but few of those policy differences remain today. On moral issues, C is moderate or liberal. Since 2007, C has been wracked by a whole slew of problems. Bendt Bendtsen, leader since 2009, quit in 2008 and was replaced by Lene Espersen, who was forced out when she became perceived as incompetent. The current leader is Lars Barfoed. The starkest differences between C and V are in terms of voter base. C is much, much more urban. Most of its strength comes from the affluent northern suburbs of Copenhagen, most notably Gentofte which has been governed by the Conservatives since 1909 and which was the only district where C topped the poll in 2007. It is also dominant in Frederiksberg, a very affluent municipality enclaved within Copenhagen. It is also strong in Odense and northern Jutland. It is much weaker in rural conservative southern Jutland, where V performs best.
The Radikale Venstre (B or R/RV), which translates into English as ‘Radical Left’ but are more commonly called ‘Social Liberal Party’ or ‘Radicals’, was founded in 1905 by a left-wing anti-militarist split off from Venstre. The Radicals are a centre-left social liberal party, mixing deep social liberalism with a more centrist attitude on economic issues. In the social sphere, the Radicals are the most pro-immigration and pro-multiculturalism party there is out there and is also quite pro-European. Economically, RV’s urban intellectual electorate is enamored with social liberalism and environmentalism, but they’re not as enamored by high taxes or social programs such as early retirement for blue-collar workers (efterløn). Recently, RV sided with the government in reforming the efterløn system leading to its gradual abolition. In the Danish system of negative parliamentarianism, RV has traditionally sought and received much political influence though less so since 2001. Despite their differences with S and especially SF on economic issues, RV is a key member of the left-wing coalition (though also the most likely to switch sides). Though RV governed in a right-wing coalition between 1968 and 1971 and participated in the Schlüter III cabinet (1988-1990) with C and V, it participated in all Nyrup Rasmussen cabinets between 1993 and 2001. The party’s current leader, Margrethe Vestager, pledged support to S in case of victory in 2007 and again this year. RV is now very much a urban party, polling best in downtown Copenhagen and other large cities. Its electoral clientele are very much ‘café latte’ type folks: educated, urban, young and decently well-off.
The Liberal Alliance (I) is the newest of the parties, adopting its current name in 2008 after being founded in 2007 as the ‘New Alliance’ (Y). The New Alliance was founded by the right-wing of RV led by Naser Khader (a prominent leader of ‘moderate Muslims’) and the left-wing of C led by Gitte Seeberg. Y’s original strategy was to become a centrist liberal governing alternative (for V and C) in the hopes of reducing DF’s influence on the government – a tall order which it failed to realize. After Y did rather poorly in the 2007 elections (2.8%), the party neared collapse as both Khader and Seeberg left the party (Khader is now a Conservative). The party was taken over by Anders Samuelsen, took the name ‘Liberal Alliance’ and moved to the right. Under Samuelsen, the Liberal Alliance has taken up most of C’s unfulfilled classical liberal policies including tax cuts, a 40% flat tax and so forth. The Liberal Alliance is also very much socially liberal: pro-gay marriage, pro-immigration and pro-EU but not environmentalist – it supports nuclear power. The party is extensively funded by the Saxo Bank.
Finally, we have the Red-Green Alliance or Unity List (Ø) is the most left-wing party in the Folketing. It was founded in 1989 by an alliance of three (later four) left-wing parties including the DKP and a Trotskyist party. This very left-wing party has moved out of old archaic communism in favour of environmentalism, feminism and other similarly trendy left-wing ideologies. It wants to nationalize big private companies such as Maersk but also Lego (!). Its support has oscillated between 2% and 4% (4-6 seats). In 2007, the party’s nomination of Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a Muslim who wears a hijab and holds some radical views (although she is not an Islamist, obviously), sparked much debate and controversy. Ø is led informally by the 27-year old Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, who is pretty popular with most people as a generally pleasant person.
There is also a non-parliamentary party which used to hold seats (up to 9 in fact), the Christian Democrats (K). The Christian Democrats are very right-wing on moral issues such as abortion or homosexuality, but generally centre-left on economic issues. While in parliament, they participated in both the first two Schlüter right-wing cabinets and the first Nyrup Rasmussen left-wing cabinet. It has been shut out since 2005 and it is unlikely that it will win seats in the near future.
In Greenland and the Faroe Islands, partisan politics are entirely different (in a Northern Ireland sense). In Greenland, the battle both for the Folketing and the local legislature is between the governing left-wing separatist Inuit Community and the social democratic (similar to S) Siumut (Forward), which governed Greenland between 1979 and 2009. Both those party won seats in 2007 and will do so again this year. In the Faroe Islands, the spectrum is more open-ended. The major parties are Republic, a left-wing separatist party and the Union Party, a right-wing (similar to V) unionist party. The Union Party picked up a seat from the right-wing separatist People’s Party in 2007. The Social Democratic Party, a left-wing unionist party, also polls well.
There are two rather solid (though perhaps not as coherent) governing coalitions in Denmark which are widely expected to form government if they win. The current coalition is called the ‘blue block’ or less often VCOI, the electoral letter of its four main components. V and C actually hold seats in cabinet, O/DF has supported it from the outside since 2001 and I (Liberal Alliance) has also informally propped the VC governnent up after it lost its majority due to a Conservative defection. On the left, the coalition is referred to as AFB (or AFBØ), also the electoral letter of its components. A/SD and B/RV can be expected to form a governing coalition, propped up formally by F/SF and to a lesser extent by Ø. Blocks are actually a very big deal, more so than the strength of individual parties.
V – Venstre/Liberals 26.2% (-2.8%) winning 46 seats (-6)
A – Social Democrats 25.5% (-0.4%) winning 45 seats (-2)
O – Danish People’s Party 13.9% (+0.7%) winning 25 seats (+1)
F – Socialist People’s Party 13% (+7%) winning 23 seats (+12)
C – Conservative People’s Party 10.4% (+0.1%) winning 18 seats (±0)
B – Radical Left/Social Liberals 5.1% (-4.1%) winning 9 seats (-8)
Y – New Alliance 2.8% (+2.8%) winning 5 seats (+5)
Ø – Unity List 2.2% (-1.2%) winning 4 seats (-2)
K – Christian Democrats 0.9% (-0.8%) winning 0 seats (±0)
North Atlantic mandates 4 (3 left, 1 right)
Right (VCOY) 53.3% winning 94 seats (89 without Y, 95 with North Atlantic, 90 without Y with North Atlantic)
Left (AFBØ) 45.8% winning 81 seats (84 with North Atlantic)
The Campaign and the Issues
The election on September 15 will be very closely fought till the end and it will not be a landslide for anybody, but the left has a ‘decisive’ but narrow advantage going into tomorrow’s vote. The final polls give between 91 and 92 seats to the left block (excluding 3 likely red seats in the North Atlantic) and between 83 and 84 to the governing parties. This lead has been rather constant throughout the campaign and the summer.
The final polls (3 pollsters):
V – Venstre/Liberals 23.4%-24.1% winning 41-43 seats
A – Social Democrats 22.1%-25.3% winning 39-45 seats
O – Danish People’s Party 12-12.7% winning 21-23 seats
F – Socialist People’s Party 10.3%-10.8% winning 18-19 seats
B – Radical Left/Social Liberals 9.1%-11.7% winning 17-21 seats
Ø – Unity List 6.3%-7.4% winning 11-13 seats
C – Conservative People’s Party 5.6%-5.9% winning 10 seats
I – Liberal Alliance 5.3%-6% winning 10 seats
K – Christian Democrats 0.7%-1% winning 0 seats
(+4 North Atlantic mandates, likely split 3-1 left)
The economy has been the main issue in this campaign. Like in most of Europe, the Danish economy has been generally sluggish though not particularly badly off. Economic growth was slow in the first quarter of 2011 (0.1%) and is projected to be between 1.7% and 2% in 2011, weaker than in 2010. Unemployment is low by European standards, 4.5%, but it too has increased from an all-time low of 1.9% in 2008. Furthermore, as the opposition is keen on pointing out, the economic crisis has turned a surplus of 5% to a deficit of 4.6%. The incumbent government led by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has proposed what it calls “fiscal responsibility” and “sustainable growth”. This includes some social cuts, such as cuts in student grants or the reform of early retirement, and investments in infrastructure to the level of €1.4 billion. Economists judge that low household consumption, a dead real estate market and high salaries impede economic growth. The government accuses the left of being fiscally irresponsible: high taxes and uncontrolled debt (Denmark’s debt as % of GDP is a sustainable 45%, down from 58% when the right took power in 2001). Løkke Rasmussen has presented the economic battle as a choice between “uncontrolled debt or the upkeep of the welfare state”. The left wishes to fuel economic recovery through growth, including increasing working hours by 12 minutes per day and boosting public investment. The economic situation perhaps does not do any favours for the government, but the Liberals are generally perceived by voters as being the most fiscally responsible. What is, however, hurting the government is its long tenure. It has governed for nearly ten years, which is generally the upper-limit for governments in Denmark, which has been incumbent-friendly since the 1970s. The mood is for change, and the government is increasingly perceived as being grubby opportunists without any ideas who slide their feet on everything in order to gain power.
Within each of the main coalitions, the largest forces remain at their weak anemic 2007 levels and both are even expected to drop below that. That is particularly bad news for the Social Democrats, whose 2007 result was its worst result since 1909. The leader of the opposition and perhaps future Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is not particularly inspiring and has faced scandals of her own recently with questions over her British husband’s tax records in Denmark. Furthermore, she does poorly in polls about the ‘best leader’: she places third, with Lars Løkke Rasmussen placing first (though not with fantastic numbers: 20%). If she does win, it will be far more by default than anything else.
SF and DF could have been expected to gain even more this year following its record-high results in the 2009 elections. SF in particular was looking quite strong in the past few months (13-16% in polls) and its leader Villy Søvndal is very popular. At this point, both parties would lose support from their record-highs of 2007. This is a shaky conclusion in DF’s case, given its tendency to under poll by up to 1.5%. In SF’s case, its shedding of up to 3% is confirmed by most pollsters. SF’s problem is that it peaked too early, in 2008-2009, and has been unable to sustain those high levels of support. Its move to become more ‘responsible’ in fiscal issues has been coldly received by its more radical voters, while the party performed poorly in a debate over immigration reform recently (introducing a point-system) where its position was perceived to be close to the government’s position. It has lost its more radical voters to Ø, which is on track for its best result ever, and its more moderate ‘café latte’ voters to RV which has a charismatic leader and clear, well-articulated positions on major economic and social issues. These loses have not been compensated with minimal gains at S’ expense.
DF is unpredictable, because, as I said, they tend to under poll like most of the far-right. DF’s high standing might be wearing of some as immigration and Muslims are not as important in the economic-centered politics of today. It may also suffer a bit of old backlash from some of its working-class voters after it voted in favour of an austerity budget in 2010 (its poll ratings then slid to 11% or so). It is likely that DF, however, will end up doing roughly as well as they did in 2007.
C is going to suffer a major rout, losing about half of its seats. It was hurt significantly by the poor leadership of Lene Espersen (she resigned in January 2011), under whose leadership C’s numbers fell from 10% to 5%. It has yet to significantly recover most of its lost voters under the leadership of Lars Barfoed. One of C’s main problems is that it has lost a lot of its support (the bulk of it, in fact) to the Liberal Alliance, which, under the right-wing leadership of Anders Samuelsen has bounced up to 6% support on a platform which appeals to many affluent, professional suburban C voters (or young libertarians): major tax cuts with a dose of social liberalism and opposition to DF.
All polls in this campaign have given the left a lead in votes and seats. The last polls, as aforementioned, give it between 91 and 92 seats. The closest it has ever been is 89 seats to 86 in the left’s favour. The government would need 89 seats from the 175 Danish seats in order to be ensured victory with the likely 3-1 split in favour of the left in the North Atlantic. No poll has come close to giving it 89.
If the left wins, the most likely option is that Helle Thorning-Schmidt will form a ‘AB’ government with the Radicals, supported from the outside by SF and to a lesser extent by Ø. The ABFØ option is the most likely outcome of the election, but there is a possibility that negotiations will be rendered more difficult by major economic differences between the Radicals and SF. At the extreme, there is a small possibility that ABF negotiations will breakdown and the Radicals might be enticed by the right to join a centre-right coalition, perhaps even led by the Radicals like between 1968 and 1971. That is more of a threat used by the Radicals than anything serious, given how much DF and RV hate each other.
note: I will be blogging about Norwegian local elections shortly, and the Spanish elections guide will be updated in a few days time.
Greenland voted to renew it’s 31-seat Landsting yesterday, an early election following a 2008 referendum on self-government, which is due to come into effect very soon. The election opposed the social democratic Siumut (Forward), which has ruled Greenland since home rule in 1979 and the separatist socialist Inuit Ataqatigiit (Inuit Community). Other parties include the anti-independence social liberal Demokraatit (Democrats), based in the ethnic Danish community, and Atassut (Solidarity), an anti-independence conservative-liberal party and the local partner of the ruling Danish Venstre (Liberals).
Inuit Ataqatigiit 43.7% (+19.3%) winning 14 seats (+7)
Siumut 26.5% (-3.9%) winning 9 seats (-1)
Democrats 12.7% (-9.9%) winning 4 seats (-3)
Atassut 10.9% (-9.0%) winning 3 seats (-3)
Independents 3.8% (-0.2%) winning 1 seat (±0)
Red for IA, green for Siumut and purple for the Democrats.
This is an historic defeat for Greenland’s Siumut, which was the island’s natural governing party since home-rule in 1979. In a symbolic defeat for the party, Jonathan Motzfeldt, Premier for 17 years failed to win a seat in the Landsting. The more radical separatist IA is two seats short of a majority, and will probably cobble together a coalition to replace the outgoing Siumut-Atassut coalition. Siumut is already certain of being “out” of any coalition deal, so they will sit on the opposition benches for the first time.
The only municipality to vote for the Democrats was Ivittuut municipality, entirely composed of the Danish naval base in Kangilinnguit, whose population is mostly military personnel. This was also the only place to vote NO in 2008 to self-government. The town Pituffik (Thule Airbase), counted in Nuuk municipality gave over 66% to the Democrats. As in 2008, the blue part is a national park with a bunch of polar bears.
A self-determination/devolution referendum was held yesterday in Greenland, part of Denmark. The proposal will will expand home rule in 30 areas, including police, courts, and the coast guard, give Greenland a say in foreign policy and a more definite split of future oil revenue, and make Greenlandic the sole official language. However, subsidies from Copenhagen would be phased out (which represent a major part of the local economy).
On a turnout of 71.96% of the approximately 39,000 voters (majority Inuit), the proposal passed overwhelmingly.
Ivittuut municipality (entirely composed of the Danish naval base in Kangilinnguit, whose population is mostly military personnel) voted no with 75.38% (49 votes). Pituffik town (Thule Air Base), which is strangely counted in Nuuk municipality also voted no with 56.06% (37 votes). The blue area on the map is a national park, and polar bears don’t vote, sadly. The yes passed with 63% in Nuuk, which was the only division to vote for the anti-independence Democrats in 2005. In the city of Nuuk itself, the capital, the yes also passed with over 60%.