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Europe

Danish elections threaten Rasmussen's grip on power

The prime minister faces a resurgent opposition campaigning against generous benefits for foreigners.

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Thorny issues on the campaign trail

Denmark’s parliamentary and local elections on Tuesday look likely to oust the country’s centre-left government.

The popularity of opposition groups, including one far-right anti-foreigner party, has surged in the run-up to election day.

Opinion polls meanwhile show support fading for Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and his coalition of Social Democrats and Social Liberals.

The quick shift of opinion appears to have caught the prime minister and his allies off guard. Nyrup Rasmussen, 58, was riding high in the polls when he called for the election three weeks ago.

But his government then faced an onslaught of criticism from opposition campaigners, who criticized the ruling coalition’s leniency regarding immigration and social welfare for foreign residents. It’s a minor issue for Denmark, economically, but politically it’s proved a rough one for the prime minister.

Fewer than 5 per cent of Denmark’s population of 5.3 million are foreign, and they take just a small portion of the welfare purse. But the popular perception among Danes that foreigners receive a disproportionate share of state benefits has opened the door to the opposition.

The leading opposition candidate is Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former tax and economy minister who shares the prime minister’s last name but not his politics.

Fogh Rasmussen, 48, and his Liberal Party promise to pass “stricter laws, so that fewer foreigners come to Denmark.”

Pre-election polls have indicated that the Liberals could take a third of the vote, enough to put them in a position to form a coalition government.

But with whom? If Fogh Rasmussen shows well at the polls, he may find himself turning to centrists or even the moderate left for parliamentary support.

Fractious right

To the right of the Liberals, the Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) offers voters a more virulent right-wing vision – downright xenophobic, detractors say, and the party’s detractors are many.

Reassuring moderate voters, Fogh Rasmussen said he will not consider forming a governing coalition with the far right.

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