Denmark’s Left-Wing Coalition Could Stay in Power

The opposition liberals have thrown away their lead in the polls since Helle Thorning-Schmidt called early elections.

Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt arrives for a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, April 23
Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt arrives for a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, April 23 (The Council of the European Union)

When Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt called early elections last month, her left-wing coalition looked almost certain to lose power. Now promising growth forecasts and persistent doubts about the opposition leader’s credibility have given her a chance at reelection.

Polls released earlier this week put the prime minister’s Social Democrats and their supporters ahead of the right-wing bloc for the first time since 2011.

At their worst point, the ruling center-left coalition trailed the right by 17 percentage points. Now it is slightly ahead or at least neck and neck.

The liberals, still the biggest party on the right, have come down from a 25-percent high in April to around 20 percent support this week.

The nationalist Danish People’s Party has consistently polled just under 20 percent. It is likely to become the third largest party and would support another liberal-led government.

Signs of an economic recovery help explain the reversal. After years of economic hardship, Denmark expects to see 1.7 percent growth this year and 2 percent in 2016. The forecasts vindicate Thorning-Schmidt’s spending cuts and welfare reforms which she says were necessary to put the Nordic country back on track.

Just before calling the election, the government also announced €5 billion in extra welfare spending and proposed to cut benefits for immigrants who fail to find work in Denmark within a month of their arrival — policies that appeal to working-class voters who might support the People’s Party instead.

But the right’s main weakness is its leader, Lars Løkke Rasmussen. The former prime minister was widely expected to step down a year ago when newspapers reported he had used party funds to buy clothes for himself. A year earlier, it was also reported that he spent $150,000 on first-class flights as chairman of an institute partly funded by the state.

Although the liberals defended his spending on clothes and the money spent on plane tickets was paid back, Rasmussen’s credibility never recovered.