Utbyggnaden betyder också att en del av det som tidigare gjorde att en högre utbildning var en säker investering har försvunnit i dag.
I wrote this review for the PSA Scandinavian Politics list. Hence there are quite a few repeats from my daily campaign notes.
When Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Wednesday 24 October called a general election for Tuesday 13 November, he also ended months of speculations about an early election. Political commentators had expected Mr. Fogh Rasmussen to call an election in September but negotiations between the Liberal-Conservative government and the Danish People’s Party ended with an agreement about tax cuts. When Mr. Fogh Rasmussen reshuffled his government shortly afterwards, an election was expected to have been postponed.
In his statement of 24 October, Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said that an election was necessary as negotiations over the government’s proposed quality reform for the public sector had stalled, but this may not be the entire story. A debate over the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is looming with the Euro-skeptic Danish People’s Party calling for a referendum about the treaty while the DPP along with the Social Democrats and the Socialist Party have called for substantial pay rises for public sector workers in next spring’s round of wage negotiations. Calling an early referendum while the EU and public sector wages still haven’t conquered the public agenda could be seen as a way of pre-empting a possible electoral defeat in late 2008.
The unusually short campaign – with only 20 days of campaigning, this is very much a “snap” election – is interesting for a number of reasons.
First, the election is the first to be held under the new constituency division introduced as part of the comprehensive local and regional government reform implemented in January. 17 constituencies have been reduced to 10 and as most parties present open lists, the number of personal votes each candidate receives decides which candidates enter parliament. Top candidates are expected to pull more personal votes than before, leaving an element of chance for less well-known candidates. Another change is that the Sante-Laguë formula for distributing constituency seats has been replaced by the d’Hondt formula.
Second, the political picture is complicated by the emergence of the New Alliance party. The party was founded in May by two high-profile defectors from the Social Liberal Party, Naser Khader and Anders Samuelsen, as well as Conservative MEP Gitte Seeberg. The party also managed to attract two Liberal MPs. NA’s main raison d’être has been to present centrist voters with an alternative to the Social Liberals who have been closely linked with the Social Democrats and in that way create a check on the Danish People’s Party as an alternative parliamentary basis for the Liberal-Conservative government. Politically, NA can best be described as the mirror image of the DPP – left-leaning in cultural policies, right-leaning in economic and tax policy.
Third, the election will be the first major test of the new leaders of the Social Democrats and the Socialist Party, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Villy Søvndahl. Thorning-Schmidt was elected chairman of the Social Democrats in 2005 with a term in the European Parliament as her only parliamentary experience, while Søvndahl had been a Socialist MP for a decade with a reputation as a leftist. At the same time the Social Democrats have seen a major turn-over of personnel during the last two years with a number of experienced politicians in their 30s, 40s and early 50s leaving politics for other careers.
Fourth, the consequences of the decision of the small leftist Unity List (or Red-Green Alliance) to field Asmaa Abdol-Hamid as one of its main candidates are still uncertain. Ms. Abdol-Hamid, a social worker from Odense, has shown herself to be a controversial choice, partly because of her appearance (she wears a head-scarf, a piece of clothing not usually associated with left-wing socialism) and religious views as well as some uncertainties with regard to her position in relation to the party’s programme.
Fifth, a number of free newspapers have appeared on the Danish media market during later years raising the question of the role of traditional and new media in the campaign.
Finally, polls suggest that the electoral agenda has changed from 2001 and 2005 to 2007. Whereas immigration and health care topped the list of voters’ concerns in 2001 and 2005, general social policy tops the list in 2007 while immigration is no longer seen as a major issue. This could be an opportunity for the Social Democrats who were deeply divided on immigration and integration policy during their last term in office to regain some of the lost ground.
The first part of the electoral campaign has been somewhat unfocused and lacklustre, despite or perhaps because the short space of time. The government hasn’t yet succeeded in presenting its proposals for a quality reform and de-regulation of welfare services as a major issue in the campaign, but on the other hand the Social Democrats haven’t been able to launch a decisive counter-campaign – partly because the party lacks funds following the 2001 and 2005 electoral defeats – even if Helle Thorning-Schmidt has shown herself to be a much more effective campaigner than one might have expected given her lack of experience in domestic politics.
The Social Democrats and the Social Liberals have also managed to close a number a policy issues which the Liberals and Conservatives could have used in the campaign: The Social Liberals – and the Socialists – have for all practical purposes accepted the 24-year rule for spouses while the Social Democrats are set to cancel their participation in the school policy agreement they made with the government during the past term.
New Alliance has provided the campaign with some excitement and comic relief by presenting a number of celebrity candidates with previous careers in NGOs or the business world but without any prior political experience. Their initiatives – eg. on tax policy or the treatment of Iraqi refugees – have not always been coordinated with the party line and has caused some confusion about the party’s policy positions. What is clear is that the party will support Anders Fogh Rasmussen after an elections even if the terms for support have to be decided.
The government at various times during the campaign has tried to play the immigration card by arguing that the Social Democrats and Social Liberals would open for unrestricted immigration by allowing asylum seekers to work and live outside of refugee camps even if they are not granted asylum. The effects on voters have yet to be seen.
Conservatives and Liberals have also warned that initiatives to investigate Denmark’s participation in the Iraq war – otherwise a complete non-issue in Danish politics – and the surrender of prisoners in Afghanistan to possible torture would amount to a return to the anti-NATO policies of the 1980s.
Outside of the main field of combat, the Social Liberals and the Conservatives have promoted policies for environmental and tax policy reform while the Danish People’s Party up until now has kept a relatively low profile in the campaign.
Opinion polls suggest that the government and the DPP will suffer minor losses which are likely to be big enough to let New Alliance – expected to enter the Folketing with 4-6% of the vote – hold the balance.
In electoral terms, the Socialist Party is expected to be the major winner with 13-15% of the vote against 6% in the 2005 election. These gains are off-set by substantial losses for the Social Liberals (down from 9% to 5-6%) and minor losses for the Social Democrats and the Unity List, however.
Update: Information about the revision of the electoral system included. Thanks to Flemming Juul Christiansen for drawing my attention to this.