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The reality of the danish political system – the short version

Christiansborg - The Danish Parliament
Christiansborg – The Danish Parliament

Denmark is a so-called constitutional monarchy. Today that means that the Queen only have a representative function. The government is based on parliamentary elections.

Denmark elects a legislature (i.e. parliament) on a national level. In parliamentary systems of government, the legislature is formally supreme and appoints a member from its house as the prime minister which acts as the executive.

The Danish Parliament has 179 members elected for maximum a four year term. 175 of the members are elected in Denmark, two in Greenland and two at the Faroe Islands i.e. the north atlantic mandates 😉

Denmark is a part of the European Union so in reality the Danish parliament and government can best be understood as something between a City Council and a Translation Service. Parliament and government are obliged to follow the decisions made in the Union and one of their main tasks is to interpret and transpose those decisions.

The parliament is called the Folketinget and the Folketing is housed on Christiansborg, a castle in the Central City of Copenhagen, the Danish capital.

The Christiansborg Castle

Christiansborg Castle is the fourth castle to occupy the site in the Central City of Copenhagen. In 1167 Bishop Absalon led build a castle at the very same spot, and since then two other castles, who both burned down, have occupied the site. The existing Castle is rather new and was built between 1907-28.

Politicians

In the Folketing you’ll find the Danish politicians – ambitious people who want power, influence, prestige and a post in the next government – or at least want to receive the monthly salary for as long as possible.

Probably even some of them have other and better intentions than their own personal career.

The politicians can be comical and they can be very boring to listen to, but they can also be rather harmful, as their decisions have a great impact on ordinarily peoples everyday life, future, hope and possibilities.

Political Parties in the Danish Parliament

The politicians are organised in political parties. After the elections held in september 2011, 8 political parties are represented in the parliament.

The two biggest political parties in Denmark are the Social Democrats, and Venstre.

The political parties : Strange naming

Seen from a foreigners point of view the names of the different political parties must be a bit confusing. Just to mention two examples: Venstre means Left in Danish. But Venstre is a neoliberal right wing party.
Another party is called Radikale Venstre (The Radical Left), but the party is neither radical nor leftist, but rather a neoliberal party with some centrum oriented values on issues like human rights, environment and the developing countries.

The government 2001 – 2011 and the political parties behind it

By the 2001 parliamentary election Venstre became the biggest party in Denmark (measured in votes) and the government was turned in the hands of Venstre. Venstres mandate to govern the country was confirmed by the 2005 and 2007 elections, but it lost the power in 2011, even if the party actually increased its support at the election..

Venstre had its offspring in the peasant movements in the 19th century and has traditionally had its strongest base in the rural, and more sparsely populated areas. Starting in the 1980s, the party began expanding into urban regions as well, and is today well established in all regions. Among the Venstre voters men with a higher than average income are overrepresented.

It is so in Denmark that typically the biggest party (measured in votes) forms the government eventually in coalition with other parties, but it does not need to be so. What is important is that no majority in the parliament is against the government.
So in theory – if no one else wants the job – the smallest party could form the government…

As a party Venstre had during the first years of governing a great success in getting the Danish voters to believe that the party is the better administrator of the so called Danish Welfare society, a position that was former held by the Social Democrats.

Venstre formed the government in the period 2001 – 2011 in coalition with Det Konservative Folkeparti. ( The Conservative Peoples Party ).

The Conservative Peoples Party is a party that stands for more tradionally conservative values and it is a party with solid roots in the upper parts of the society.

Also the previous Venstre led government were supported by Dansk Folkeparti ( The Danish People’s Party ).

The Danish People’s Party, who was first elected in 2001, was strengthened by the 2005 and 2007 elections and got about 14% of the votes in 2007. In 2011 the party lost a bit ending on 12.3% of the votes.

The party has combined demands for social security and welfare for first and foremost older people with nationalistic phrases. Some of this party’s key issues is to cut down foreign aid and stop the possibility for foreigners to settle in Denmark.

The Danish Peoples Party find their voters among the lowest income households and less educated groups in the danish society. Voters that seems to believe that a cooperation with the two other parties mentioned above, combined with a great deal of xenophobia, will be for their own benefit.

After the 2007 election a new party – Liberal alliance – established itself. Liberal Alliance won 9 seats in the parliament in the 2011 election. Liberal Alliance has a very strong support from the Danish investmentbank Saxo Bank.
The partys politics, which is based on a fundamentalist neoliberal ideology, can best be described as a populist mix of simplifications of a kind that of course always will have an appeal to some of the more unaware.

Traditionally there have always been a lot of cooperation between government and opposition in the Danish parliamentary system.
One of the reasons for this is that the governments do not always control a majority of the seats in the parlament, and therefore needs to gain support from the other political parties.
How much cooperation one should expect to find depends on the situation, i. e. the possibilities to establish a majority in parliament.

In the period 2001 2011 the majority could be obtained with only one coalition partner, The Danish Peoples Party. The period was therefore characterised by a majority rule by those three parties.

The 2011 election – a new government and a new prime minister

The head of the government (the Statsminister – prime minister) is, at least for the moment, Helle Thorning Smith, chairman of the Social Democrats. She is the first Danish female prime minister, and took over the post after Lars Løkke Rasmussen (Venstre) in september 2011. Then the coalition behind the Venstre led government were defeated by the election held the 15th of september. The election ended 10 years with Venstre heading the governments.

The actual government is a coalition government. Besides the Social Democrats, also “Det Radikale Venstre” (The Radical Left) and Socialistisk Folkeparti (the Socialist Peoples Party) have ministers in the government. In fact, even if the government is led by the Social Democrats, it is a common view by people on the street, that the government is actually led by Det Radikale Venstre – a neoliberal party(!) – which seems to be in control and have the final word.

Also the actual government is a minority government. The only reason it gained the power was that it was supported by Enhedslisten (United List – a leftist coalition) in the parliament after the 2011 election. The government is constantly seeking support from the even more right wing parties and is living a life on thin ice.

Before the election the parties behind the government offered themselves as an alternative to the former government. Since they gained power it has become clear that what the danes have actually gotten, is a government of technocrats, continuing the politics of the former Venstre led government. For the same reason especially the Social Democrats and the Socialists Peoples Party have lost support in the polls with an until now, in danish parliamentary history, unseen speed.

The Social Democrats has traditionally been rooted in the workers movements and unions of the late 19th. century, and had been an important factor in the formation of the Danish Society as it is known today, participating in a majority of Danish governments in the 20th century. But the partys support from the voters has declined since the nineteen-seventies and are now even below the level by the elections at the beginning of the 20th century.

Besides the Social Democrats the government consist of the Socialistisk Folkeparti (Socialist Peoples Party), Det Radikale Venstre (The Radical Left) – neither radical nor leftist but rather a neoliberal party with some centrum oriented values.

The government has to some degree been supported by Enhedslisten (United List) – a coalition of different socialist groups: communists, trotskyists, left socialists etc, because it has been seen as the lesser evil.

Even if there are great differences among those three last mentioned parties they have all in common that they are elitist parties.

The United List has the most well educated group of voters among all parties, and the voters of Radikale Venstre are the voters with the highest average household income. The third opposition party mentioned here – Socialist Peoples Party – is somewhere in between, their voters are not as well educated, and their average house hold income are not that big as the voters of the Radical Left and the United Left, but anyway…

Det Radikale Venstre obtained a great success in the 2005 election and almost dobbled the number of mandates in the parliament.

Among the partys key issues in that election campaign was a suggested tax reform that would give their key voters an enormous reduction in taxes paid, on the cost of more less earning households.

The economic greediness and egoism was successfully combined with well meaning phrases on environmental issues and development aid to third world countries.

As can be seen in the election results the Radikale Venstre lost their votes again in 2007, mostly thank to a split in the party where a few members formed a new party called New Alliance.

New Alliance gained a lot of support in the polls before the elections, but it was lost in a hurry due to amateurism. The party won 5 seat in the parliament, but the party has since dissolved, like some hot air from yesterday.

The Radical Left regained to a certain degree its support in the 2011 election.

The Socialist Peoples Party has worked hard to convince the establishment that they could function as a reliable coalition partner in a government together with the Social Democrats.

The United List plays the role as the enfant terrible who points out the problems, and say out loud what no one wants to talk about. The party was previously without any kind of real influence, but after the 2011 election its mandates, can be of great importance for the actual government, even if the government coalition are trying desperately to avoid this situation.

The reality of Danish Politics

All in all there are no big differences regarding practical and economic politics between the parties represented in parliament (except perhaps Enhedslisten). Probably the splits and divergences within the Chinese Communist Party are much bigger. Of the 8 parties mentioned above, 7 of them can be seen just as competing fractions within SLEEP (det Social LiberalE Enheds Party eg. the Social Liberal United Party). The main foci is on the questions about personal power, influence and career.

Sources:

Wikipedia: Folketingsvalg 2011
“Privatansatte afskriver S” in: Ugebrevet A4, 14.2.2005
“Der er byttet om på højre og venstre” in: Politiken, 6. februar 2005.

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Published : 5. December 2007 - (Read 457 times)

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