Denmark's "Red bloc" poised for win over centre-right

Reuters News
|
Posted: Sep 15, 2011 2:49 PM
Denmark's "Red bloc" poised for win over centre-right

By John Acher and Jeremy Gaunt

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark's center-left "Red bloc" was poised to win power on Thursday and oust center-right Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen in an election driven by voter anger over the state of the economy.

Exits polls pointed to a clear majority in parliament for Social Democrat Helle Thorning-Schmidt's grouping, setting her on course to be Denmark's next prime minister, the first woman to hold the post.

The center-right "Blue bloc" has been in power for 10 years, during which Denmark, like other countries, suffered the worst economic downturn since World War II.

With voting closed in all but Denmark's North Atlantic dependencies, exit polls showed Thorning-Schmidt's Red bloc with a clear majority of 93 seats in the 179-seat parliament. Her Social Democratic party would be the largest in parliament with at least 44 seats.

"I am very happy that the numbers we now see show that Danes have said 'stop'," leading Social Democrat MP Mette Frederiksen said.

The state of the economy has been the overriding issue of the campaign, with the governing coalition parties under fire for failing to spur growth.

Thorning-Schmidt has attacked Rasmussen for taking the country deep into deficit.

"We can say farewell to 10 years of bourgeois rule that has stalled and get a new government and a new majority in Denmark," she told reporters earlier in the day.

Her platform includes increased government spending, along with an unusual plan to make everyone work 12 minutes more per day. An extra hour of productivity each week, her group argues, would help kick-start economic growth.

Rasmussen appealed to voters to stick with him and, he said, not let the center-left unravel what has been achieved.

"We (should) stay on the course that has (brought us) reasonably through the crisis, create new optimism in Denmark, not create obstacles to private consumption and not make it more expensive to be Danish," he said.

ECONOMIC WOE

If the exit polls prove correct, Denmark would become the latest in a series of European countries to see incumbents voted out at least in part because of struggling economies.

Spain's Socialist government is facing possible defeat in a November 20 general election and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has lost a series of state elections since May 2010.

Denmark has been spared much of the trauma suffered by other west European countries because it remains outside the euro zone. This means it is not involved in bailing out debt-laden countries like Greece, an issue that has stirred popular anger in neighboring Germany.

But the economic crisis has turned Denmark's healthy surpluses into deficits, forecast to climb to 4.6 percent of GDP next year.

Danish banks have also been struggling, with small bank Fjordbank Mors falling into the hands of administrators in June, the ninth Danish bank to be taken over by the state since the start of the crisis in 2008.

Thorning-Schmidt's "12-minute" plan -- unusual enough to define her campaign -- would pay workers for the extra time. Denmark has no official work week, however, so the actual hours would be decided on a company-by-company basis.

The likely new prime minister is part of an extended European political family, marriedLabore son of Neil and Glenys Kinnock. Neil was a European commissioner and British Labor Party leader, Glenys a European parliamentary deputy and Europe minister in the last Labor government.

(Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom, Mette Fraende, Shida Chayesteh, Teis Jensen, Terje Solsvik, Ole Mikkelsen, Jakob Vesterager; Writing by Jeremy Gaunt; Editing by Andrew Heavens)