Denmark election, 2015: Connecting election results and government under multipartism?

For better or worse, Denmark’s election yesterday is a clear example of the connection (or lack of connection?) between election results and likely governing alliances in a multiparty system.

The party of the (outgoing) Prime Minister, the Social Democrats, actually gained seats and remains the largest party by a 10-seat margin. However, Helle Thorning-Schmidt submitted her resignation because her “Red” bloc will have fewer seats than the (former) opposition.

Meanwhile, the core party of the traditional Danish right, the Venstre (liberals, not actually “left”) lost 13 seats, but will be part of the new government. In fact, its leader, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, is the most likely next PM. A Guardian headline even declares that he “wins slender victory”.

The big gainer in the election is the “populist” Danish People’s Party, which gained 15 seats and finished second. It is thus the largest party in the expected new governing “bloc” (if it is even accurate to call it that). However, its leader surely will not be prime minister, and may not even be in the government. More likely it will support a minority government* of the center-right.

So there we have it: the PM’s party gains seats, the largest party by a good margin will head the opposition, the second largest party will be an outside support party, and the PM will come from the party whose seats declined the most!

None of the above is meant necessarily as criticism: in a multiparty parliamentary system, the government is comprised of that set of parties that is at least tolerated by a majority of elected representatives, not necessarily the largest (or even second largest!) party. In general, I admire the Danish electoral, party, and governing systems. But an outcome like this does raise questions about the accountability mechanisms of this pattern of multiparty politics. At the very least, it offers a great teaching case–too bad the Danish could not hold this election a couple of weeks ago when I was indeed teaching a course for which this is highly relevant!

Finally, for fans of Borgen, some help from The Local Denmark.

* I can’t argue with the first two sentences of that article: “It seems to be the season for shocking elections. Rarely has the job of political scientists been so interesting.”

12 thoughts on “Denmark election, 2015: Connecting election results and government under multipartism?

  1. There is always the Botswana rule:

    33(3)d. the returning officer shall declare to be elected as President any candidate for whom support has been declared in accordance with paragraph (a) above by not less than such number of persons elected as Members of the National Assembly in the Parliamentary election as corresponds to more than half the total number of seats for Elected Members in the Assembly, and if there is no such person the returning officer shall declare that no candidate has been elected.

    A presidential election defaults to the national assembly if no-one wins under 33(3)d.


  2. The DF seems so comfortable In its current role that it is not just reluctant, but almost outright unwilling to go into government. And indeed it wielded much influence in the Venstre governments while itself grows and grows, never suffering a significant drop in support. Will this be imitated elsewhere, when perceived fringe parties rather stay out of the dirty business of governing (and risking losing their “outsider” appeal), yet still get their policies implemented? (And in the wildest dreams, widespread parliamentary systems where minority governments are the norm, and significant policy making is done in parliaments and not in executive governments….)


  3. I guess one could say that since the Conservatives (I think?) and the Liberal Alliance back Rasmussen over Dahl, and since the three pro-Rasmussen parties have a majority within the coalition, it would be more undemocratic to give the Prime Ministership to Dahl, given that he does not have the support of the majority of the coalition.


      • Yes, I think that it works quite well as a means for preventing a divisive and potentially unpopular candidate becoming PM, and it’s been done in Denmark before. After the 1973 election, the Progress Party was the biggest party on the right, but Progress leader Mogens Glistrup had only 16% of the vote, and was fairly controversial amongst other Danish parties. In the end, the more paletable Venstre leader Poul Hartling became PM, in a minority government.


  4. I fear I might have accidentally deleted, rather than cleared, a legitimate comment that got scooped up by the spam filter. Apologies if this was you, and I hope you can reconstruct the comment!

    (“You” here does not refer to anyone with a comment currently visible in this thread.)


  5. How often does it happen that the third largest party in a parliamentary democracy where the party leader becomes Prime Minister and forms government? It seems iffy, seems as it would be best after an election for the parliament to elect a Prime Minister from among the party leaders of various parties and require the use of the exhaustive ballot.

    It seems as if the DPP wants power without responsibility.

    Couldn’t a minority coalition government with the Social Democrats and Venstre been tried a la what happened in the Netherlands between Labor and the Liberals or would that had been unworkable?


    • Third parties (or, more importantly, 2nd parties within a coalition or bloc) leading a government is rare, but not without precedent.
      the Progress party came second in 1973 but Venstre, coming third, governed on their own with just 22 seats until 1975 with support of the former and other centre and right parties.The Social Liberals briefly delivered the PM from 1968 to 1971 in coalition with the conservatives and Venstre, each of which had more seats.

      Other countries where this has occurred are Norway, Sweden, Latvia, the Netherlands, Iceland and Belgium (currently, as MR leads the government despite being second within the coalition and fifth overall with just 9.6% of the vote).


  6. Keep in mind that with FPTP you can have a situation like Britain in 1983, where the Conservative Party’s vote declined by 1.5% but the Tories won 58 extra seats and subsequently ran around with steam coming out of their ears proclaiming this to be a smashing landslide popular mandate for Thatcherism.


  7. it appears that the right wing bloc can’t agree on the balance between increased welfare and furtherliberalisation, and Venstre will form a one-party government, with support from the other parties on a case-by-case basis. On just 34 seats. According to the article, there was actually a minority government with only 22 seats in 1973 that lasted 14 months.


    • Indeed, as I mentioned above. Note well, though, the 22-MP minority cabinet ended by the prime minister calling an early election in which Venstre did very well.


  8. Pingback: Denmark coalition crisis? | Fruits and Votes

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