Denmark’s centre-right coalition government has taken a gamble by going to the polls early. It seems two terms of strong economic growth have not protected it from the return in popularity of the social democrats.
Their new leader, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, wants to be the country’s first female prime minister. But other forces are at play.
Naser Khader, a Danish Muslim, could become the “kingmaker” even though his New Alliance Party is just six-months-old.
Last year a survey found Denmark to be the happiest country in the world. Its statistics are impressive. Unemployment is at a record low and there is a healthy budget surplus.
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the man who can take the credit He also withdrew Danish troops from Iraq and proposes spending more on welfare.
“The Danish economy is in very good shape,” he said on the eve of the election. “We do not have serious political problems, so people are satisfied.”
Even if Rasmussen wins the election he could need both Khader’s pro-immigration New Alliance and his current, anti-immigration, coalition partner, the People’s Party, to ensure a ruling mandate, which could prove interesting.
The Social Democrats’ policies are not very different to Rasmussen’s. But Helle Thorning-Schmidt doesn’t agree with the government’s planned tax cuts, insisting the Danes must choose between better welfare and paying less tax .
“We are very different in terms of our value system, our perspectives in terms of the welfare state and public services. I think these differences are very clear, particularly the question we are bringing to the vote now which is do you want tax cuts or do you want to improve public services. It’s the basic left and right division.”
Thorning-Scmidt has ruled out any alliance with Rasmussen, heightening the importance of the smaller parties.
The result of this election could hang on the immigration issue in a country which saw mass Muslim protests over Prophet Mohammed cartoons.