In Danish election, campaign turns personal in tight race
BORNHOLM – Reuters
REUTERS PhotoDressed in a denim shirt and black jeans, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt cracked jokes and took selfies with supporters on the island of Bornholm, just days before a June 18 election that could end her political career.
It was an unusual performance for the 48-year-old premier, famed for her expensive tastes which earned her the moniker ‘Gucci Helle’ and rather formal, rigid style of speaking.
But her relaxed demeanor reflected her party’s success in making up lost ground to the center-right opposition, whose lead over Thorning-Schmidt’s bloc was some 17 percent two years ago and still seemed unassailable earlier this year at 10 percent.
Now the two blocs are running almost neck and neck ahead of the vote on June 18 - one pollster said you could “toss a coin” to see who will win. And with both Thorning-Schmidt and opposition leader Lars Lokke Rasmussen, 51, expected to leave politics if they lose, the campaign has taken on a personal intensity.
She and her Social Democrats lose no opportunity to remind voters of Rasmussen’s past financial scandals, albeit minor, and question his credibility saying his policies are “dubious”.
On June 16, some 1.5 million Danish households received a letter from Helle, as everyone calls her, imploring them to “say No to Lars Lokke Rasmussen.”
Meanwhile, Rasmussen and his Liberals list the promises the prime minister broke after the 2011 election including better public transportation and health services. One advert states: “Back then, she was so cocksure. Vote for the Liberal Party”.
“The issue of trustworthiness has really come to the front,” said Rune Stubager, Professor at Aarhus University’s Department of Political Science.
“Because the government has been in trouble with voters due to their policies, they have seized the opportunity to use the personality of their main contender as one of their key weapons.”
Thorning-Schmidt’s dignified response following a shooting attack by an Islamist gunman in February and her growing stature within Europe have bolstered her standing, while Rasmussen has stumbled amid questions over his judgment.
The prime minister’s personal rating stands at 42 percent compared to Rasmussen’s 26 percent, a stark reversal from 2013 when he polled 46 percent and she was at 16 percent, according to pollster Epinion.
But the bloc of opposition parties are a touch ahead with 50.9 percent compared to 49.1 percent for the ruling parties. The group that ends up with more parliamentarians gets the first opportunity to form a government.