Op-Ed: Denmark's first woman prime minister wins, faces many battles

Posted Sep 16, 2011 by Bradley Axmith
Almost 87 percent of eligible Danish voters gave a slim majority to the centre-left alliance of four parties yesterday, handing the Social Democrat Helle Thorning-Schmidt the right to form a government, becoming Denmark’s first female prime minister.
Denmark s first woman prime minister-elect  Helle Thorning-Schmidt
Denmark's first woman prime minister-elect, Helle Thorning-Schmidt
Mogens Engelund
Despite losing a seat in the Danish parliament, the folketing, and receiving the lowest share of votes in 100 years, Schmidt, 44, squeaked to victory on the strength of the so-called “red bloc” of parties who combined to secure 92 of 179 seats in the mixed member parliamentary system.
The prime minister-designate expressed jubilation however, declaring triumphantly that, “Danes had decided to move forward,” adding to the party faithful, “we’ve written history today.”
The election ends the ten-year reign of the Liberal-Conservative coalition, a minority team propped up by the Danish People’s Party (DPP) in exchange for tightening immigration controls. The Conservatives and the DPP lost 10 and 3 seats respectively, making it impossible for the “blue bloc” to retain power.
With the economy front and centre during the campaign, Denmark’s sluggish performance—just barely growing in the last quarter and the worst in Scandinavia—was a liability at which the Social Dems and Socialists hammered away, stressing education and investment.
Despite the carefully coordinated strategy of Schmidt and Villy Sovndal of the Socialists, their message failed to gain traction with voters making them dependent on the far-left Red-Greens or the Social Liberals. Schmidt will likely invite the Social Liberals, a left-leaning but fiscally conservative party that supported the outgoing government’s austerity measures and insists on further pruning of the large welfare apparatus.
Mette Oestergaard of Politiken, a daily, suggested Schmidt is suffering a political hangover today trying to shore up her support for a government while considering the implications of a three party coalition.
All parties agreed however that keeping the Danish People’s Party out of power was a positive outcome. The DPP is Eurosceptic, has had a couple members charged with hate crimes and argues against subjecting Denmark to international law.
The Liberals managed to overcome voter fatigue and the faltering economy on the strength of Lars Lokke Rasmussen’s last ditched effort to paint the opposition as irresponsible at a time of global crisis. Lokke’s party increased its tally of seats to 47, becoming the country’s biggest party.
Schmidt is married to the son of Lord Neil Kinnock, the former leader of Britain’s Labour party.