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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 10:22 GMT
Rasmussen v Rasmussen
Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen
Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (r) jokes with his challenger
By Line Vaaben Juhl and Thomas Vennekilde in Copenhagen

The ousted Danish Prime Minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, called Tuesday's general election three weeks ago, in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks.

The crisis, and his self-consciously statesmanlike response to it, gave him his best poll ratings for years.

However, support for his governing coalition of Social Democratic and Social Liberal parties, had declined rapidly ever since.

Opinion polls ahead of the election, predicting a centre-right victory, proved accurate. After nine years in power, the Social Democrats are out.

The campaign focused almost exclusively on the candidates from the two biggest parties, both called Rasmussen: Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, aged 58, and his challenger, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, aged 48, leader of the Liberal Party, Venstre.

Pia Kjaersgaard
Pia Kjaersgaard wants to stop refugees
Anders Fogh Rasmussen has led his party since the last election four years ago, when the party missed power by only a couple of hundred votes.

He once had a reputation as an ultra-liberal, but has in recent years appeared to drift towards the centre right.

Denmark's famous scepticism towards the EU was completely absent in the debate - probably because the two prime ministerial candidates largely agreed with each other.

The main theme of the campaign was policy on immigration and refugees, which played into the hands of the far right, especially Dansk Folkeparti.

It doubled its support, winning 22 seats, and becoming the parliament's third largest party.

One of the party's key platforms was a complete halt to the admission of refugees. The party's leader, Pia Kjaersgaard, has compared Islam with a terror movement.

"Islam, with the fundamentalist tendencies we have seen, must be combated," she recently declared.

And Danes listened.

The fear of foreign things - immigrants and refugees alike - has boomed in Denmark over the past two months, and is now higher than it has been since 1990.

The fear of foreign things - immigrants and refugees alike - has boomed in Denmark over the past two months

Two out of three Danes now want stricter refugee policies. Before 11 September the figure was only one in two.

In the final few days of the campaign a large number of Danish intellectuals and artists, among others film director Lars Von Trier, raised the alarm over the policy direction.

In advertisements in newspapers and on the internet they warned Danes against voting for a right-wing government, supported by Dansk Folkeparti.

The party was described as having a "repulsive view of human nature" and a government led by a right-wing majority was seen as a "threat to values like justice and freedom of mind".

Now the right-wingers have won, and won decisively, the left-wingers will have to watch and see whether their worst fears are confirmed.

See also:

22 Aug 01 | Europe
Danes criticise immigrant list
30 Sep 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Danes bite back at Europe
09 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Denmark
22 Nov 01 | Europe
Europe guages Danish no vote
28 Sep 00 | Europe
Danes say no to euro
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