Denmark Faces Tough Balance In Election

Denmark Faces Tough Balance in Election

The Associated Press
Monday, November 12, 2007; 3:35 PM

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark's center-right government will need the backing of both a nationalist, anti-immigration party and a small centrist group led by a Syrian-born Muslim immigrant to survive Tuesday's election, polls showed.

The two parties' clashing views on immigration could complicate Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's alliance-building as he seeks re-election for his coalition government.

“It will be my challenge to ensure the necessary compromises,” Fogh Rasmussen told reporters. “I do believe it is possible.”

The prime minister, in power since 2001, called the early election three weeks ago, taking advantage of favorable approval ratings, buoyed by Denmark's strong economy.

The Liberal Party's Fogh Rasmussen leads a two-party minority government that rules with the support of the Danish People's Party, known for its hardline stance on immigrants, especially Muslims. Under his government, Denmark has tightened its liberal immigration laws and backed the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein.

Although it holds no Cabinet seats, the populist party is consulted by the Liberal-Conservative government for major policy decisions and has helped shape Denmark's strict immigration laws.

A poll published Monday in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper showed the government and the Danish People's Party would get 86 of the 179 seats in Parliament, four short of a majority.

That means the government would also need support from the centrist New Alliance led by Naser Khader, a moderate Muslim and karate black-belt, to remain in power. Khader's party would get six seats, according the poll by the Ramboell Management institute.

The left-leaning opposition bloc led by the Social Democrats would get 83 seats, the pollster said. The Nov. 8-11 poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points and was based on 1,091 telephone interviews.

Khader said Sunday for the first time that his party would side with the prime minister, rather than the opposition.

“Anders Fogh Rasmussen is our first choice, he is our prime minister candidate,” Khader said in a debate on Danish TV.

He added that his party would seek to pull the prime minister “in our direction” _ meaning away from the influence of Danish People's Party leader Pia Kjaersgaard.

Khader and Kjaersgaard were key profiles during Denmark's most turbulent days since World War II: the wave of Muslim rioting last year against caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad printed in a Danish newspaper.

As Danish embassies were burned in several Muslim countries, Kjaersgaard's party ramped up its harsh rhetoric against Islam, while Khader formed a network of moderate Muslims and made public appearances with Fogh Rasmussen, presenting himself as a counterbalance to extreme Islamists.

Some analysts say keeping both parties in supporting roles could help Fogh Rasmussen win favor from voters who believe Kjaersgaard's influence on Denmark's immigration polices has been too strong.

The opposition, however, claims confusion could well be the result.

“We don't know whether it's Pia Kjaersgaard who will decide asylum policy or Naser Khader,” Social Democratic leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt said in a TV debate Monday.

Economists and Danish corporate leaders have said Denmark needs to open its doors to more workers from abroad. If re-elected, Fogh Rasmussen said he would push for a U.S.-style green card system to allow more skilled foreign workers to enter Denmark.


Associated Press Writer Jan M. Olsen contributed to this report.