KV17 – STORY # 2 – CRITICAL ISSUES
IN DANISH, KV17 IS SHORT FOR MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS 2017. ON 21 NOVEMBER, DANISH VOTERS WILL DECIDE THE POLITICAL COMPOSITION OF 98 MUNICIPAL COUNCILS AND 5 REGIONAL COUNCILS. THIS TAKES PLACE EVERY FOUR YEARS, AND ALWAYS ON THE THIRD TUESDAY IN NOVEMBER. THIS IS CAST IN STONE AND DIFFERS FROM ELECTIONS FOR PARLIAMENT, WHICH CAN BE CALLED BY THE PRIME MINISTER WITHIN THE PERIOD OF MAXIMUM FOUR YEARS. DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN, I WILL POST A SERIES OF STORIES ABOUT SMALL AND LARGE ISSUES THAT DEFINE THE SPECIAL ‘DEMOCRATIC CULTURE’ OF MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN DENMARK.
STORY # 2
FIVE CRITICAL ISSUES AT STAKE THIS TIME
Illustration from an article in the daily newspaper “Politiken” about issues to be aware of in this election.
Parties and politicians may have a clear idea about what they would like voters to focus on in the ELECTION campaign. At the same time, there will also be plenty of media institutions and political commentators wanting to shape the agenda. A recent article in one of the major Danish newspapers, POLITIKEN, pointed to five issues of a national level relevance that we should be aware of. Of course there will be many more and many different critical issues at the municipal level. I will return to some of these local issues in future stories, but since I agree with those highlighted by the newspaper, I will mention them briefly here.
1. WHICH PARTY DOMINATES AT MUNICIPAL LEVEL? There are different ways of measuring ‘dominance’. You can look at the total number of votes cast for a particular party, or you can look at the number of mayors a party wins. Traditionally, we have used the number of mayors as the indicator of dominance, and traditionally the Social Democrats and the Liberal Party have been fighting for supremacy – or sharing the municipal territory, with Conservatives coming far behind, and the rest of the parties even further behind. In the 2013 election, the Liberal Party outdistanced the Social Democrats, and it is clear that the Social Democrats – in particular at a time when the party is in opposition to a coalition government led by the Liberal Party – is determined to win back several of the mayors they lost in 2013. Right now the Social Democrats is doing better in the polls than the ruling Liberal Party, so the chance of winning back several municipalities is not unrealistic.
2. WILL SOCIAL DEMOCRATS AND THE DANISH PEOPLE’S PARTY WORK TOGETHER? Decades ago, the former Social Democratic Prime Minister, Poul Nyrop Rasmussen, made it clear in a parliamentary discussion that he did not consider the Danish People’s Party to be a party you could work with. He said that it was not a ‘clean’ party. Today, the message from Mette Frederiksen, the leader of the Social Democrats, is that the two parties should cooperate on various social issues, where they seem to agree. One reason for this new position could be that Social Democrats have lost some of their voters to the Danish People’s Party, and this could be a way to win them back. The leader of the Danish People’s Party has stated something similar, and his reason could be that he can use this new ‘alliance’ to put pressure on the ruling coalition that he supports. But all of this is first of all national level politics, and the big question is if it will make a difference at municipal level, where the local candidates and party chapters make the decisions – not the top leadership. So will we see the two parties coming together to decide on both policies and who should be selected as the mayor? I doubt it.
3. ARE SOME MAYORS IN PARTICULAR IN DANGER OF LOSING? In every municipal election, there are some municipalities in particular that media and commentators focus on. This could be a municipality with what we call a ‘city king’, who has ruled for numerous election periods (there is no limitation on the number of periods a person can serve as mayor). Will the mayor survive yet another term? The interest could also be caused by what happened after the last election – when maybe a candidate ended up being selected as mayor after some rather shady back-room agreements. Will such a person win again, or is it now pay-back time from those who lost out last time? Time will show, but the truth is that municipal politics can be rough, much rougher than we normally think it is.
4. WILL THE LOW SUPPORT FOR THE RULING LIBERAL PARTY CONTINUE? Right now, the polls indicate that the ruling Liberal Party, headed by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, is trailing behind not only the Social Democrats, but also behind the number of voters supporting the party. We often state that municipal politics is a world apart from national politics, with local issues dominating and deciding which party you will vote for. True, and there are plenty of examples to substantiate this view. However, it also seems to be true that the municipal level of support for a party will be fairly close to how the party is doing in the polls at national level. This also means that low or weakening support for the rulig party at local level will be a challenge to the leadership of the Prime Minister, because he is after all the party leader and must therefore take responsibility for the municipal election result.
5. CAN THE DANISH PEOPLE’S PARTY WIN THE FIRST POST AS MAYOR? The Danish People’s Party has played a key role in Danish politics for decades, and increasingly so. Right now the party is the parliamentary support for the ruling coalition of three parties to the right of the centre. The party has done well in recent municipal elections, but it still has not managed to have a candidate selected as the mayor of a municipality – except for in the city of Copenhagen, which has a special governance set-up with a Lord Mayor and several mayors responsible for different areas like health, schools, construction, etc. The big dream and hope of the party is to have a ‘regular’ mayor elected in 2017, and there are indications that this could be possible in one or two of the 98 municipalities.