Close result on cards in poll as two Rasmussens woo the Danes

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Series Details Vol.7, No.42, 15.11.01, p8
Publication Date 15/11/2001
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Date: 15/11/01

By Martin Banks

THE Danish general election on Tuesday (20 November) looks set to be a cliffhanger, with Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen fighting for his political life.

Rasmussen is the longest-serving premier in the EU: he has been the Danish leader since January 1993, leading a coalition made up of four centre-left parties. Support for his Social Democrats had fallen considerably since the last election, but two recent opinion polls put them back above the 30 mark - their highest showing in more than a year.

That level of support is still below their showing at the last election in 1998, when they attracted 36 of the vote.

The opposition bloc, which was weakened by leadership struggles, scandals and inter-party feuds in previous elections, now presents a far more cohesive front. Its calls for improved welfare standards and a clamp-down on immigration have struck a chord with the electorate, but Rasmussen has won popular approval with his robust response to the war on terror.

He was among the first leaders to pledge solidarity with the US cause and has since promised to send a warship to the Gulf and military personnel to the US to assist the allied effort.

Under the Danish constitution, the poll could have been held any time before next March, but in calling a snap election last month Rasmussen has opted for a short campaign. The prime minister has said an early election would give the government time to prepare for its six-month stint at the helm of the European Union in the second half of 2002.

The Danish presidency will have to steer attempts to complete the first wave of EU enlargement as the membership negotiations are due to be completed by 2002. As the short election campaign entered its final stages, most political commentators were forecasting that Rasmussen's minority coalition would face a severe test from the centre-right coalition under Anders Fogh Rasmussen, leader of the main opposition party, the Liberals.

One Danish pundit said: "The prime minister is fighting for his political life. At present, the result of the election is too close to call."

Preview of the Danish general election, 20 November 2001.

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