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Danish democracy

Denmark’s elections are approaching, even if people don’t know exactly when. Here’s a quick rundown of how it will work, and what to look for.

Since it was written nearly 2,500 years ago, Plato’s The Republic has been viewed as the philosophical foundation of democracy.
But for all his intellectual wizardry, Plato was a little sketchy on the details. He may have laid out the ideas, but countries have had to concoct their own ways of turning Platonic philosophy into practical procedure.
Like all democracies, Denmark has some nuances that don’t come up in the pages of Plato. And at some point in the next few months, these nuances will take centre stage when the country holds national elections.

Mark the date

Danes will vote whenever the prime minister wants them to.
OK, that’s not entirely true. The prime minister – currently Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the third straight prime minister surnamed Rasmussen – does indeed dictate when elections are held. But it can be no longer than four years after the previous election, and there must be at least three weeks between the announcement and election day.
The last election was on 13     November 2007, so the next one is coming up. It’s just that no one knows exactly when.
“People thought it would be last week, then this week, and now people are saying it will be next week”, says Rune Stubager, a professor at Aarhus University’s political science department.     “So basically no one knows.”
The last time it took this long between elections was 1994, when elections were held just three months prior to the deadline. According to Stubager, the current delay might be a matter of timing.
“Of course the prime minis-ter will keep an eye on when he has the best chance of being re-elected”, Stubager says. “When-ever the prime minister sees an opportunity to get re-elected, he’ll call an election.”

Block party

When voters do finally take to the polls, they will have plenty of options.
There are currently nine different parties with seats in the 175-seat Danish parliament, each with somewhere between one and 46 representatives. The two largest parties are the centre-right Venstre, which has 46 representatives, and the Social Democrats, who have 45.
Though there are a multitude of parties, they split into two coalitions, or blocks. The “blue block” is comprised of the various right-wing parties such as Venstre, the Danish People’s Party and the Conservative People’s Party; the “red block” has the Social Democrats, the Socialist People’s Party and other left-wing parties.
In 2007, the blue block received 54.2 percent of the votes, the red block 45.8. On the strength of that margin, the prime minister was from the blue block.
But according to AU politics professor Rune Slothuus, things are set to flip.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll see some changes”, Slothuus says. “And right now the polls say that 52 percent will vote for the red block, and 48 percent for the blue block.”

Economy the “real battlefield”

Even if immigration and border patrols get the lion’s share of media attention, Slothuus and Stubager both say that economics will dominate this election.
“The economy has gotten worse since the last election, so that’s the real battlefield”, Slothuus says. “The incumbent government would like this to be about economic responsibility. But the Social Democrats and Socialist People’s Party are trying to make the welfare state the major issue.”
Venstre and other blue block parties stress that they will not raise taxes and will be responsible with government spending. The Social Democrats, meanwhile, want to bolster social welfare, especially in education and         health-care. The caveat is that they can’t increase welfare (which everyone wants) and cut taxes (which everyone also wants).
And this, according to Slothuus, is the crux of the election.
“All parties have to like the welfare state because it’s so popular”, Slothuus says. “But there might be an ideological cleavage this time, because the centre-right say that they need welfare but we might need to cut down certain aspects of it.”