POLITISK BRIEFINGValgtet: The Vote
Feb. 9 - The Danish parliamentary election was held yesterday and the results are in. (I say "yesterday," but it's technically still Tuesday night as I write this.)
They're not especially surprising, which is why the elections were called in the first place: if American presidents were allowed to choose the timing of federal elections, then presidential approval ratings would determine the electoral cycle. What kind of idiot president would say, "Hell, I'm at 41% and dropping—let's give it a whirl and see if I catch a break?"
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is therefore the night's big winner, as he becomes the first Prime Minister in the history of his party to win re-election. His party is Venstre, which is Danish for left, and is considered to be somewhat right-leaning. His coalition government also includes the Conservatives, the Danish People's Party, and the Christian Democrats.
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The night's big loser is Mogen Lykketoft, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, whose left-wing coalition will remain in the wilderness a while longer. Lykketoft himself announced in his concession speech that he would be stepping down as the opposition's frontman; speculation over who would fill the ensuing power vacuum occupied a considerable portion of the evening's subsequent coverage. State-owned DR1 went so far as to lay out a set of photographs of the opposition's heavy hitters and push them around on a table as commentators tried to determine the most probable successor.
The night's big surprise was apparently the seven-seat gain for Det Radikale Venstre ("the Radical Left"), a member of the opposition coalition—or maybe it was an eight seat gain—the online tally shifted just now, and 99.8% of the vote has been tallied.
Other developments included a two-seat pick-up for Dansk Folkeparti ("Danish People's Party"), which is now the third-largest party in Denmark. The party is strongly anti-immigration, to the extent that most Danes consider them almost unsavory. "It's not that they're a racist party," one Dane explained to me (for purposes of clarification, it wasn't my wife), "but there's no question that a certain number of them are being motivated by unpleasant ideas."
The Conservatives picked up two or three seats, depending on the mood of DR's website stats.
Both major parties—Fogh's Venstre and Lykketoft's Socialdemokratiet—lost a significant number of seats: four and five, respectively.
My own amateur read on the election would therefore be this: the Danish political landscape hardly changed, but a fair number of voters moved out from the center: disaffected erstwhile Venstre supporters moved over to the Conservatives or the Danish People's Party while disaffected erstwhile Social Democrats trucked over to the Radical Left. As an American, try to imagine an off-year Congressional election in which both houses of Congress stayed in the same hands, but a bunch of centrist Democrats were replaced by Move-On activists and a bunch of centrist Republicans were replaced by Buchananites and Gingrichites. That's more or less what happened here, except that Venstre and the Social Democrats themselves are more like two sides of our Democratic party than they are like Democrats and Republicans.
(It's probably worth noting, peripherally, that the colors used by the networks to denote the two coalitions were red and blue, just as in America, except that here the leftists were red and the center-right government was blue. Not much help for someone already suffering from cultural dyslexia.)
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Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the election all of six or seven weeks ago, and now it's over. There's something appreciably succinct about the Danish election cycle. The whole thing took as long as the period between the New Hampshire and California primaries.
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The 7-Eleven on Gothersgade was offering free coffee this evening. The only catch was that you had to ask for a free cup at the counter, and you had to state your preference for the cup with Fogh's picture on it or the cup with Lykketoft's picture on it.
"I'd like a free cup of coffee," I told the clerk.
"Which cup?" she asked.
"It doesn't matter," I said. "I can't vote."
"But you have to ask for one," she said.
"Whichever you want," I said.
"I can't decide for you," she said.
I fell back on eenie-meenie-miney-mo and ended up with a Lykketoft cup.
"Can I get hot chocolate instead of coffee?" I asked.
The clerk bit her lip, glanced with worried eyes toward the coffee machine, and nodded.
A Studieskolen classmate was behind me in line.
"I want a free cup," she said.
"Which one?" the clerk asked.
"It doesn't matter," my Russian classmate answered, "I can't vote."
Can you imagine how frustrating a night it must have been for this woman? Her 7-Eleven is directly beneath the Studieskolen building.
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Two asides, without further commentary. First: I saw last week that 2004 was 7-Eleven's thirteenth year of doing business in Denmark, and the first in which they turned a profit.
Second: Danes call Anders Fogh Rasmussen "Fogh" instead of "Rasmussen" for short because the previous Prime Minister was also named Rasmussen. (They're not related.) He was a Social Democrat. So you wouldn't have wanted to get into a political dialog with anyone during the election or the transition because God only knows what kind of crazy mix-ups that might have led to. "You're a Rasmussen supporter? You bastard! I'm a Rasmussen man!"
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I just noticed the Radical Left is back down to a seven-seat gain.
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I'm not entirely sure what this election turned on. I was surprised how unimportant the Iraq war seemed to be during the campaign, but I've been informed by several Danes that that's because the parties made their positions quite clear quite early and there was therefore no political hay to be made of the issue, despite polls showing that the Danish public had turned decidedly against the war in spite of the government's continuing support for it.
I noticed some articles with Turkish datelines citing anti-immigration policy as a reason for Fogh's success, but I didn't hear a lot of talk or see a lot of propaganda about immigration during the campaign, either.
Here are the things I heard the most about: education and taxes. Maybe I wasn't listening at the right moments, maybe I misunderstood things, maybe I just had my head up my ass the whole time, but education and taxes were the words I seemed to hear most often.
One thing I didn't see, at all, was political television advertising. None. But that wasn't entirely remarkable, because there seemed to be a debate of one kind or another every single night for the past two weeks. I was beginning to think of DR1 as the "Fogh-Lykketoft Channel."
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I'm going to leave at that for now because I want to go to bed. I'm hoping to take a look at the international media tomorrow and see whether foreign analysis of the election synchs with my own.
I doubt it will.
[Final check: the Radical Left has their eight-seat gain back, and the Conservatives are down to a two-seat gain... and, strangely, 97.6% of the votes have been tallied.]
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Today is the birthday of Mia Farrow (1945), Joe Pesci (1943), Carole King (1942), Roger Mudd (1928), Gypsy Rose Lee (1914), and Carmen Miranda (1909), and William Henry Harrison (1773).
Happy Hump Day!
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