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The art of building a majority

Intro-guide into Danish politics

Photograph: iStock

Text: Narcis George Matache

Ever since democracy appeared in Denmark, with the introduction of universal voting rights in 1915, one party has never been able to obtain over 50% of the votes. To rule, one party always needed to learn how to build bridges with another party. This allows other parties representing a smaller population to also have a say in how the country is governed.

The struggle for democracy started with the 1849 June Constitution (Grundloven), when students and academics challenged the absolute power of the king. This led to a constitutional monarchy in which landowners could vote for an assembly that had legislative power and the ability to collect taxes.

With the power to vote, came the electoral offer. The supporters of the king, the Right (Højre), formed one option. The option for more power to the king and less power to the people. The students and academics behind the June Constitution (the National Liberals), formed another option, the exact opposite of the Right.

Later on, the 1866 Constitution was passed, which gave privileged voting to wealthy people in the country (2 votes per wealthy man). To challenge the power of the Right, the farmers and the small business owners, created the Left (Venstre). Feeling left out by both the Right and the Left, the working class formed the Social Democracy (Socialdemokratiet) in 1884.

The Social Democracy led the fight for universal voting and the creation of the welfare state, being joined in 1906 by the Social Liberal Party (Radikale Venstre), the former intellectual wing of the Left. Despite opposition from both the Left and the Right, the social-democrats and the social-liberals managed to pass a new constitution in 1915, that gave universal voting rights.

This led to Social Democracy becoming the largest party of Denmark from 1924 until today (with a break between 2001 and 2015), governing Denmark for most of that time and implementing the welfare state we all know today.

"A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create." - Mahatma Gandhi

The politics of Denmark today There are two political camps in Denmark. The “reds” led by Socialdemokratiet and the “blues” led by Venstre. While the reds fight to preserve the welfare state and continue making improvements in working conditions, equality and the green transition, the blues fight to reduce taxation, the power of the government and to give more freedom to companies. However, each political camp contains smaller parties that have their unique characteristics.

The “Reds” – Socialdemokratiet, Radikale Venstre, Socialistisk Folkeparti (The Socialist People’s Party – the green party of Denmark), Enhedlisten (The Red-Green Alliance – Led by a collective leadership, that evolved from the Danish Communist Party), Alternativet (The Alternative – The progressive greens).

The ”Blues” – Venstre, Konservative (The Conservative Party – evolved from Højre, as defenders of traditional values – monarchy, family and nation); DanskFolkeparti (The Danish People’s Party – grew from Progress Party, an anti-taxation movement, and is now today a nationalist social conservative party); Nye Borgerlige (The New Right – a new party for libertarians with anti-immigration views) and Liberal Alliance (libertarian party of Denmark).

Denmark is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy led by Queen Margrethe II. The government of Denmark (Regeringen) is headed by the “red” prime-minister Mette Frederiksen (statsminister) and holds the executive power. The legislative power is controlled mainly by the Parliament (Folketinget).

The current government is a minority government (formed only from 1 party) that needs to build majorities every time a new law has to be passed through the parliament. The aim for every new law is to have the broad majority backing of the population and therefore the government aims to gain support from the opposite political camp, by making concessions to reach consensus.

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