Denmark - Political parties





Until 1849, the Danish form of government was autocratic. The constitution of 1849 abolished privileges, established civil liberties, and laid down the framework of popular government through a bicameral parliament elected by all men over 30. In 1866, however, the National Liberal Party, composed largely of the urban middle class, succeeded in obtaining a majority for a constitution in which the upper chamber (Landsting) was to be elected by privileged franchise, the great landowners gaining a dominant position. This proved the starting point of a political struggle that divided Denmark until 1901. Formally, it concerned the struggle of the directly elected chamber, the Folketing, against the privileged Landsting, but in reality it was the struggle of the Left Party (made up largely of farmers, but after 1870 also of workers) to break the monopoly of political influence by the Right Party (consisting of the landowning aristocracy and the upper middle class). Meanwhile, the workers established trade unions, their political demands finding expression in the Social Democratic Party. In 1901, Christian IX called on the Left to form a government, and thereafter it was the accepted practice that the government should reflect the majority in the Folketing.

During the German occupation (1940–45), a coalition government was formed by the main political parties, but increasing Danish popular resistance to the Germans led the Nazis to take over executive powers. From 1945 to 1957, Denmark was governed by minority governments, influence fluctuating between the Social Democrats on the one hand and the Moderate Liberals and Conservatives on the other, depending on which of the two groups the Social Liberals supported. In 1953, a new constitution abolished the Landsting and introduced a single-chamber system in which parliamentarianism is expressly laid down. In 1905, the Left Party split. Its radical wing, which seceded, became a center party, the Social Liberals, and sought to collaborate with the Social Democrats. In 1913, these two parties together obtained a majority in the Folketing, and a Social Liberal government led Denmark through World War I. A new constitution adopted in 1915 provided for proportional representation and gave the vote to all citizens, male and female, 25 years of age and older (changed in 1978 to 18 years). In an attempt to obtain a broader popular base, the old Right Party adopted the name Conservative People's Party, and thenceforth this party and the Moderate Liberals (the old Left Party), the Social Liberals, and the Social Democrats formed the solid core of Danish politics. The Social Democrats briefly formed governments in 1924 and in 1929, in association with the Social Liberals.

Aims of the Social Democratic Party are to nationalize monopolies, redistribute personal incomes by taxation and other measures, partition farm properties to form independent smallholdings, and raise working-class living standards through full employment. It supports the principle of mutual aid, as practiced in a combination of social welfare and widespread public insurance schemes. The Conservative Party advocates an economic policy based on the rights of private property and private enterprise and is firmly opposed to nationalization and restrictions, though it is in favor of industrial protection. It calls for a national contributory pensions scheme that would encourage personal initiative and savings. The major parties support the UN and NATO and favor inter-Scandinavian cooperation.

Issues in the 1970s focused less on international matters than on policies affecting Denmark's economy. The general elections of December 1973 resulted in heavy losses for all the established parties represented in the Folketing and successes for several new parties, notably the center-left Democratic Center Party and the "Poujadist" Progress Party led by Mogens Glistrup, an income tax expert who reputedly became a millionaire by avoiding taxes and providing others with advice on tax avoidance. The Progress Party, established early in 1973, advocated the gradual abolition of income tax and the dissolution of over 90% of the civil service. The Social Democrats, who had been in power, lost significantly in this election, and their chairman, Anker Jørgensen, resigned as prime minister. In mid-December, Poul Hartling was sworn in as prime minister, with a Liberal Democratic cabinet. The 22 Liberal members in the Folketing made up the smallest base for any government since parliamentary democracy was established in Denmark.

When it became clear in December 1974 that the Folketing would not approve the drastic anti-inflation program the Hartling government had announced, general elections were again called for. In the January 1975 balloting, the Liberals almost doubled their representation in the Folketing. However, because most of the other non-Socialist parties had lost support and because three of the four left-wing parties simultaneously gained parliamentary seats, the preelection lack of majority persisted, and Hartling resigned at the end of the month. After several attempts at a coalition by Hartling and Anker Jørgensen, the latter's alignment of Social Democrats and other Socialist-oriented minority parties finally succeeded in forming a new government. Jørgensen remained prime minister through general elections in 1977, 1979, and 1981. In September 1982, however, dissension over Jørgensen's plan to increase taxes in order to create new jobs, boost aid to farmers, and reduce the budget deficit led the government to resign. A four-party coalition led by Poul Schlüter, the first Conservative prime minister since 1901, then took power as a minority government, controlling only 66 seats out of 179. After the defeat of his 1984 budget, Schlüter called for new elections, which were held in January 1984 and increased the number of seats controlled by the coalition to 79. Following elections in September 1987, however, the number of seats held by the coalition fell to 70.

The 1994 election brought to power a three-party coalition of Social Democrats, Center Democrats, and Radical Liberals (they commanded a total of 76 seats in the 179-seat parliament). The 1994 election produced significant difficulties for the political right. The Conservatives were usually the major right-wing force with a legacy of heading governments but it saw its representation drop to 28 seats from 31 while the Liberal Party increased its share of the vote from 15.8% to 23.3% and thereby became the largest opposition party. The center-left coalition survived the departure of the Center Democrats in 1996, which rejected Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen's decision to seek support for the 1997 budget from the far left. The fragile two-party coalition stumbled from one crisis to another in 1997 and the 1998 election promised to bring a Liberal-Conservative cabinet back to power. In February 1998, the Social Democrats recovered in opinion polls and Nyrup Rasmussen called a snap election.

The election results were as follows: Social Democrats 35.9% (65 seats), Radical Liberals 3.9% (7 seats), Center Democrats 4.3% (8 seats), Christian People's Party 2.5% (4 seats), Socialist People's Party 7.6% (13), Unity Party 2.7% (5 seats), Liberals 23% (43), Conservatives 8.9% (17), Progress Party 2.4% (4), and Danish People Party 7.4% (13 seats). Following the 1998 election, the Social Democratic and Radical Liberal coalition remained intact with Nyrup Rasmussen as prime minister. The Conservatives suffered a dramatic defeat and saw their share of the vote drop from 15% to 8.9%. The two far right parties—the Danish People's Party and the Progress Party—recorded the biggest gains by taking votes from the mainstream right-wing parties. In March 2000, Nyrup Rasmussen reshuffled his cabinet to breathe new life into government and to respond to the pressures coming from the Danish People's Party, which accused the government of being soft on immigration. Campaigning on a platform "Denmark for the Danes," the People's Party is attracting a large number of sympathizers.

The issue of immigration remained primary in the early elections called for by Nyrup Rasmussen on 20 November 2001. Nyrup Rasmussen's Social Democrats suffered a major defeat, gaining only 29.1% of the vote and 52 seats. Center-right parties gained their largest majority since 1926. The Liberal Party(31.3% of the vote and 56 seats) the Conservative People's Party(9.1% and 16 seats) formed a minority government headed by Anders Fogh Rasmussen (no relation to Poul Nyrup Rasmussen) that depended upon the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (12% and 22 seats) for legislative support. Other parties represented in the Folketing following the 2001 elections were as follows: Socialist People's Party, 6.4% (12 seats); Radical Left, 5.2% (9 seats); Unity List—the Red Greens, 2.4% (4 seats); Christian People's Party, 2.3% (4 seats); and the 2 representatives each from the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

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