Stories about life in Denmark

Danish political parties: ‘Left’ is not leftist, and other tips for voting in Denmark

Last week, political posters went up all over Copenhagen, on streetlights, on bridges, and on train platforms.

The posters are for the local elections this month, and even though the candidates are supposed to take them down afterwards, they usually don’t.

So, the candidates will keep smiling and making promises through Christmas, and through the winter snow and ice. Come spring, you’ll see a faded, battered photo of somebody who failed to win anything at all hanging from a light pole near you.

The ‘left’ party is not leftist
I like Danish politics, and I follow it, even though I don’t follow Danish sports or entertainment. I like Danish politics because it involves a lot of intelligent women running things, with men standing in the background to help them out.

candidate-poster-with-drawn-moustache-225x300Even though I’m an American citizen, I can vote in local Danish elections, having lived in Denmark for more than 3 years. Of course, you can pay taxes from the moment you step off the plane, but after 3 years, you can have a say in how those taxes are spent.

Now, Danish politics are all about putting together a coalition, because there are 9 main parties, maybe 5 of whom you need to know about. And their names are confusing. For example, the sort of solid, suburban conservative party is called Venstre – the Leftist party.

The sort of hip, young, new media entrepreneur party is called Radical Venstre – the Radical Left. Neither of these parties are in any way leftist.

Giving them the finger
What IS leftist is Enhedslisten – Unity List – a relatively new party built on top of the old Danish Communist party. As a student in Denmark, you’ll notice that a lot of your friends may vote for this party. Enhedslisten has done a great job of branding: they have a gorgeous, likeable young woman as their leader, and they’ve become the cool protest party.

They’re also still communists – they want to shut down the stock exchange, get rid of the army, and abolish private property. A lot of people who vote for this party don’t really want them to come to power. But voting for them is like giving the finger to middle-class Denmark.

The ultra-left Enhedslisten sometimes votes in harmony with the ultra-right party, The Danish People’s Party. This is because they both hate Denmark’s membership in the European Union. Now, that ultra-right-wing party, the Danish People’s Party, is an anti-foreigner party. They’re always trying to tighten immigration restrictions, or close up the borders.

Even trust foreigners
Many Danes don’t want to admit, at least to you, that they vote for the Danish People’s Party. But a lot of people do – it’s the third biggest party in Denmark.
There is a party that wants you and wants your votes as a foreigner.

That’s Radikale Venstre (the Social Liberals) – the hip, entrepreneur party I mentioned before. They had a terrible ad campaign during the last election: “We trust people. Even foreigners.”

But their heart is in the right place. The Radikale have a multi-cultural team of candidates, and they do what they can to soften immigration restrictions, in part because their business supporters need the foreigners’ skills.

Oh Frank
Anyway, I will not be voting for the Radikale. I will vote for the team lead by Frank Jensen, the Mayor of Copenhagen, who is a Social Democrat. I voted for him last time, after reviewing all the various campaign videos, and after I’d made my decision, my vote was solidified because Frank Jensen had a great campaign technique.

The red rose is the symbol of the socialism, and Frank found lots of attractive young men from the Social Democrat youth wing to stand outside train stations and give a single red rose to middle-aged women.

It was great – I mean, these are women who haven’t gotten a rose in 20 years. I think he got 85 per cent of the middle-aged female vote. Including mine! And I’m a registered Republican in the United States. I’m sure it was the first time ever I voted Socialist.

Vote at McDonalds
But not the last time. I’ve liked Frank’s work with the city, and I’m going to vote for his team again.

The percentage of Danes who voted in local elections was a little disappointing last time, so this time, people have been allowed to vote anytime from August until November. You can vote by mail, at libraries, in old folks’ homes, in jails, in hospitals, and at McDonald’s.

Yes, McDonald’s. McDonald’s is co-operating with the Danish authorities to get the youth vote up, so candidates will be holding rallies and speeches there.

And whenever you pick up your Big Mac and fries, you can also vote for the candidate of your choice.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Alex Forrest Whiting November 18, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    As a TV political journalist who has moved from the UK to Denmark, I can tell you politics in this Scandi country is very different to what I’m used to. For a start, the number of political parties is overwhelming. And as you point out, the names bear little relation to what they actually stand for. So as I continue to weigh up who to vote for in tomorrow’s local and regional elections, I want to say thanks for this blog. Very helpful!

  • Avatar
    Reply Meep meep! January 31, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    Wow! Your writings, including this article, seem so intelligently thought-out and coherent. You are succinct and, I feel, always engage your audience with clarity and wit.

    And then you tell us that you’re a Republican.

    Something is not right here!


  • Avatar
    Reply Thomas June 20, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Left is called ‘Left’ because it was left-wing in the 19th century. Really, its views have probably changed less than those of the Conservatives (KF or ‘C’ on the lists) because the latter have become fairly liberal and almost indistinguishable from Venstre. The political spectrum simply reconfigured from a liberal-conservative split to a socialist-capitalist split in which most capitalist parties became more classically liberal than conservative. Now each bloc has an internal globalist/anti-globalist split, which is where you note Enhedslisten and DF are on the same side (and we could say SF and Alternativet are centrist on this scale). The Liberal Alliance has entered as an ultra-liberal party as the classical liberalism of Venstre moderated.

    If you wanted to put the Danish parties on an American scale, I’d say this:
    Enhedslisten – extreme left, only found on university campuses
    Socialist Left – left-wing of the labour unions and progressive activists
    Alternativet – mainstream Greens
    Social Democrats – mainstream of the labour unions (a bit left to the centre of the Democratic Party on economics/welfare and a bit right on immigration)
    Radical Left – yuppie, New Economy Obamaites, more libertarian Democrats
    Liberal Alliance – libertarians and some liberal Republicans
    Venstre – as you said correctly, suburbanite Republicans
    Conservative Peoples Party – “old money” GOPers
    Danish Peoples Party – Tea Party, social conservatives, Buchananite nationalists, the far-right of the industrial labour unions

    • Avatar
      Reply Kay Xander Mellish June 20, 2015 at 3:01 pm

      Thanks, Thomas, for this excellent comment. As you may have guessed, the blog post you saw was written before the emergence of a strong Liberal Alliance party and the Alternative Greens. The 2015 elections have shaken things up a bit!

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