Wed, Nov 14, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Danes vote in parliamentary poll


Danes voted in a general election yesterday, with polls suggesting a slim victory for Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's center-right coalition after a campaign dominated by the welfare state and immigration.

The Liberal-Conservative government, along with its parliamentary ally the far-right, anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DPP), has led public opinion polls since Rasmussen called snap elections three weeks ago though its lead has narrowed considerably in recent days.

Four opinion polls published late on Monday and early yesterday had Rasmussen, 54, with a narrow lead, but between 10 and 20 percent of voters had yet to make up their minds.

"There are still a lot of undecided voters. That's why we have to try to convince them, down to the last minute, to make the right choice," Rasmussen said as he hammered home his message to passersby in the Noerreport district of Copenhagen on election morning.

Surveys showed his minority coalition and the far-right could together win between 86 and 93 seats in the 179-seat Folketing, or parliament, where 90 seats are needed for a majority.

The center-left opposition, headed by Social Democratic leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, could win between 78 and 84 seats.

A new party, New Alliance, could hold the position of kingmaker once the votes are counted yesterday evening.

The center-right formation, which was created earlier this year with the goal of putting an end to the government's dependence on the far-right DPP, has said it would support Rasmussen if he meets certain conditions, notably on easing conditions for refugees.

It would win four to five seats, polls showed.

Rasmussen, in power since 2001, has campaigned on his strong economic record, arguing that the country's robust economy with record low unemployment was the best guarantor of the Danes' cherished welfare state.

Thorning-Schmidt has, meanwhile, warned that tax cuts introduced by the government and its proposed tax freeze risk jeopardizing the welfare system and has pledged to upgrade schools, daycare centers, health care facilities and nursing homes.

The prime minister called the election 15 months ahead of schedule to take advantage of Denmark's flourishing economy and the creation of New Alliance to widen his parliamentary majority.

He also wanted to take advantage of an opposition divided over several thorny issues.

But the election campaign may not have panned out the way Rasmussen had planned, with the opposition putting up a tougher-than-expected fight.

Thorning-Schmidt, who has headed the Social Democrats since April 2005, has surprised many by successfully uniting the center-left parties and presenting the bloc as a realistic alternative to Rasmussen's government, something few observers expected three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, New Alliance, led by 44-year-old Syrian-born Naser Khader, has seen its support in the polls plummet in recent weeks even though the issue of immigration -- one of its main campaign themes -- dominated the headlines.

Rasmussen's government, heavily influenced by the farright, has since it came to power in November 2001 introduced some of the most restrictive immigration laws in Europe, drastically reducing the number of refugees coming to Denmark from 10,000 in 2001 to fewer than 2,000 last year.

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