Foreign Correspondent: Progress in Denmark


Taastrup, Denmark. In the beginning of December 1973 we had a general election here in Denmark which could almost be termed a "parliamentary revolution." The four old parties that have been leading Danish politics through all of our parliamentary history were reduced from having the support of almost three-fourths of the electorate at the former election in 1971 to little more than 50 percent at this election (the percentage of votes cast was 88.7). By far the larger part of the straying votes went to various nonsocialist parties with the major share to the tax-negating Progress Party led by Mogens Glistrup (which was discussed in my column in the October 1973 REASON). The result is that the precarious balance which has existed for a long time between the Socialist and the Conservative-Liberal parties has been thrown off and a completely new political situation has emerged.

The results of this election may be roughly summarized as follows:

1. The Social Democratic Party (moderate socialistic), which has been the largest party since 1924, has maintained this position; but out of 175 seats in parliament it now has only 46 as compared to 70 before the election. Its supporting party, the Socialist Populistic Party (non-moderate socialistic), lost 6 seats and now has a mere 11.

2. The three old Conservative-Liberal parties, which had the remaining 88 seats, now have 58 taken together. (The reason why they were not able to control a majority in parliament is that, in addition to the 175 seats, 4 more seats are reserved for representatives from Greenland and the Faroe Islandsenough of these have supported the socialist parties and hence can be said to have determined the political course in opposition to the majority of the inhabitants of Denmark proper. It sure does not pay to be an imperialistic power!)

3. The remaining 60 seats have been gained by parties that were not represented before the election (20 to socialistic parties and the rest to nonsocialistic parties) and among these the Progress Party is by far the most important with 28 seats, which makes it the second largest party. This alone is something that has never happened before in Danish politics: that a new partyand even one with a goal that is completely in opposition to the existing trendhas gained support from one out of every seven possible voters!

The main conclusion to be drawn from the result of the recent election is that a lot of Danes seem to be more than normally disillusioned with the established welfare state and that they have therefore voted for those parties that promise reduction of the administration (and the welfare programs?) and thereby reduction of the heavy tax burden.

After such a reorganization of the parliament and with the seats distributed to 10 parties (as compared to 5 before the election), the formation of a new government was necessarily a difficult matter. After two weeks of negotiations, the Liberal Left (which is not socialistic but the one of the three old Conservative-Liberal parties which traditionally represents the farming population) with only 22 seats undertook the task and is now busy with proposals concerning the energy crisis and the ever wilder rolling inflation. At this time it is impossible to predict whether they will be able to carry out the wishes of the voters as expressed in the election or whether we will have a new election very soon. But it is at least evident that they will have to cooperate effectively with a wide range of other parties, so there is hope that the present parliament will be a better expression of the opinion of the majority of the population than the former one was.

The reaction of the press to the result of the election (which incidentally coincided very well with the opinion polls taken during all of 1973) was, in general, as could be expected: shock, indignation, and accusations of immorality, egoism, and the wish to destroy the welfare state against those antisocial individuals who had dared to vote for something different than the established trendparticularly those who had voted for the Progress Party. The public however does not seem to be so discontented with the outcome: at least the opinion polls taken after the election do not show any great deviations.

The public opinion in the immediate future will, however, depend on how the new parties conduct themselves in the debate in the months to come. This is especially true for the Progress Party which still does not have a comprehensive political-philosophical programme and which is exclusively known by the controversial public appearance of its founder and leader, Mr. Glistrup. Most of the members of his group in parliament are quite unknown to the public.

As a personal comment, I do not think that this "parliamentary revolution" should be regarded too optimistically. It's true that it is a clear manifestation of a real dissatisfaction with the high taxes and to some extent with the meddling of the welfare state into the affairs of everybody; it's a real relief (at least to some of us) that the socialist trend has been subdued. But it's also true that it's a revolution without the necessary ideological basis and popular understanding of the principles involved, and it is therefore primarily negative in its content. The Danes that voted for the Progress Party are not Libertarians and I'm quite convinced that if that party had had a real Libertarian platform it would not have been represented in parliament today, but would have been repudiated as totally immoral! There is simply no real understanding and very little knowledge of such principles today in Denmark and it's highly dubitable that the Progress Party has the strength or the intention to pave the way for it.

I'm sorry if I'm disappointing youI would be very happy if I'm proven wrong and shall report about the development in due time.