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Denmark prepares for historic election in time of crisis

National affairs usually take center stage in a general election, but this time Danish politicians must also offer solutions to a European energy crisis, record-breaking inflation and climate change.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — Danish citizens will hit the polls Tuesday after Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was forced to call a general election amid a scandal over the Social Democratic government's order to kill all minks after the discovery of a Covid-19 mutation in 2020.   

The governing party has said it is aiming for a broad coalition, but it remains to be seen who it will collaborate with. The Social Democrats' most prominent supporter, the Danish Social Liberal Party, is expected to have a historically bad election and is at risk losing its government seats altogether. 

Recently, Frederiksen has tried to appeal to the Moderates, a new centrist party spearheaded by former liberal Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. His party is projected to get 15 seats in the Danish Parliament, which can be enough to swing control from the liberal, or blue, wing to the socialist, or red, wing – or vice versa.

The red bloc saw its six opposition parties joining forces early in the election, but their campaign has been severely hampered by internal disputes on, for example, the right of home health care workers to wear a headscarf. The coalition is diverse, ranging from the New Right, which advocates for stricter immigration rules, to the Liberal Alliance, which wants significant tax reductions.

Mark Ørsten, professor at Roskilde University and an expert on national elections and political communication, believes it is evident that the ruling Social Democratic party has run the strongest campaign.

“Mette Frederiksen knew that her opponents would criticize her absolute power and political control during the mink scandal. But as she was calling for elections, her party had a good time preparing for a preventive comeback. She did that successfully by appealing for a broad government and moving away from the current one-party constellation," he said in an interview.

Ørsten's research shows that the Social Democratic party garnered 22% of total media coverage in the lead-up to the election, the most of any of the 14 parties on the ballot.

The Social Democrats have successfully managed to plan and present legislative packages on, for example, higher salaries for certain groups of public employees. Meanwhile, the two opposing candidates for prime minister – Jakob Ellemann-Jensen of the liberal party known as Venstre and Søren Pape Poulsen from the Conservative People's Party – have suffered from clumsy and unconvincing performances during televised debates, according to Ørsten.

He called the 2022 general election in Denmark historic because it is taking place in a time of different world crises.

“You can say that Danish politicians run for office at a ‘global stage rather than a closed national one,’ as voters focus on the climate crisis unfolding across country borders, which is linked to the current energy supply crisis due to the war in Ukraine," he said. "Above both loom broader issues of foreign policy and security affairs.”

Health and elderly care top the list of issues getting the most media coverage, while climate and defense policy come next, according to statistics from Roskilde University's Center for News Coverage. In every candidate debate, the focus has also been on financial help for families struggling with increasing consumer and energy prices.

Ørsten noted how all 14 parties running for Parliament must take a stance on the same topics.

”It is unique because everyone agrees on the problems to solve. And the solutions of the respective parties do not differ that much," he said. "So we see that winning voters for this election becomes more a question of skillful media communication rather than political difference. And that is not advantageous for the smaller parties, who position themselves on specific topics like immigration policy or lower taxes."

Election projections show an uphill battle for smaller green parties, such as the Alternative party and the Green Alliance. One big question is how many seats will be won by a brand new party known as the Denmark Democrats, which has seen significant support from citizens outside the bigger cities. 

Courthouse News will have coverage of the election results on Wednesday.

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