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Denmark goes to the polls for nail-biting general election

After four years in office, leftist Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is fighting for a second term. Her opponent, Lars Rasmussen, a former premier, is looking for a comeback as polls put the two neck and neck.

Danes headed to the polls on Thursday for a general election as opinion polls put Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt's center-left coalition locked in a dead heat with the right-wing former premier Lars Loekke Rasmussen.

Although approval ratings have languished for Social Democrat Thorning-Schmidt since her minority government took office in 2011, a surprising upswing at the end of the three-week election campaign to 49.3 might be enough to secure Denmark's first female prime minister a second term.

Under her watch, the country made a slow back and forth recovery from the financial crisis, and Thorning-Schmidt was criticized for making some rightwing financial decisions, such as welfare cuts and corporate tax reductions.

Campaign focuses on economics, immigration

The campaign initially focused on the economy and the country's strong social system, but the main topics then shifted to immigration and hosting asylum seekers.

Rasmussen, who led the country from 2009 to 2011, leads a coalition with his Venstre party that includes the Danish People's Party (DPP), a staunchly anti-immigration group that has around 18 percent of voters' sympathies. Rasmussen would need the support of the DPP in order to form a government, and has announced that he would cut benefits to new immigrants and make it more difficult for asylum seekers to gain permanent residency.

Denmark saw an influx of 15,000 refugees last year, nearly double the amount from 2013 as violence ratcheted up in the Middle East.

Buoyed by recent economic recovery, Thorning-Schmidt decried her rival's plan to freeze public spending, saying on the eve of the election that Denmark "can afford to have a…society where we take care of each other."

Survey suggest that one in five Danish voters remained undecided ahead of election day.

es/jil (AFP, dpa)

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