Danish Leader Stages Comeback in Tight General Election

(Bloomberg) -- Denmark’s Social Democratic Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was unexpectedly set to win a majority in a nail-biter general election, putting her on track to secure another four-year term at the helm of the Nordic country.

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Frederiksen and her allies in the left-leaning red bloc won 87 seats as all votes had been tallied, after early polling indicated she would falter. That compares with 72 mandates for the right-wing opposition blue bloc and 16 for a newly emerged center party the Moderates, which had been widely expected to become a kingmaker following the vote.

Frederiksen has spoken about a broad government, going as far as to propose forming a grand coalition spanning the political spectrum.

“I’m very, very happy,” Frederiksen said as she arrived at parliament after midnight on Wednesday. When asked if she would still seek a broad-based coalition, she replied in the affirmative, saying “we will do all we can to realize it.”

In her victory speech, Frederiksen said her cabinet will resign to allow talks to open on forming a broad government. The technical resignation underscores her wish to involve a range of parties in the talks.

“No matter who forms a government, the challenges are piling up,” she said, highlighting three key issues: reduced waiting lists in the health-care system; further inflation aid for Danes; and more efforts to fight climate change.

The outcome of the election will allow the prime minister to put a pandemic-era mink scandal finally behind her and push forward with climate policies, including spurring the transition to green energy, as well as fixing the health service, which she pledged to do as part of her campaign. Given the consensus-driven nature of Danish politics and the krone’s peg to the euro, markets are unlikely to move on the election result.

For the first hours of the vote count, the 44-year-old prime minister was on track to lose her majority, which would have forced her to the negotiating table with Lars Lokke Rasmussen, a former two-term prime minister who five months ago founded the centrist Moderates. Her campaign, much like the past two years of her premiership, was weighed by a decision to kill the country’s mink population during the pandemic, later found to have been unlawful.

Standing in the way of a grand coalition is the opposition leader, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen of the Liberals, who has ruled out such a partnership, partly due to Frederiksen’s role in the mink cull.

Frederiksen, who’s led the party since 2015, is the youngest premier in Danish history and was seen as having handled the pandemic more skillfully than many developed nations until that perception was marred by the mink scandal. Two months after taking over the government in June 2019, she drew then-US President Donald Trump’s ire by saying Greenland wasn’t for sale after he’d offered to buy it.

The vote was so close that a final tally could shift some seats, and a further element of uncertainty is created by two seats from Greenland, which Frederiksen needs in order to retain control in the 179-seat legislature. Those will be announced Wednesday. She gained one seat from the Faroe Islands with one going to the opposition. Turnout in the election reached 84.1%.

The election result sets off talks among parties on who can secure the needed backing in parliament, with the leader of those negotiations carrying the moniker royal investigator.

“The Social Democrats campaigned on the formation of a broad government,” Frederiksen said. “If a majority of parties choose me as the royal investigator, I will explore that opportunity because that would be good for Denmark.”

When they reach a deal, it’s presented to the Queen and marks the formal shift of power. Often the governing coalition has a minority in the legislature, but is supported in any votes by allies to ensure the government’s proposals pass.

(Updates with Frederiksen comments from fifth paragraph.)

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