Enhedslisten flexes new muscle while PM’s party defies the polls

After surging forward to become the second largest party at City Hall, left-wing EL scores coveted deputy mayor slot; despite exit prognoses, Socialdemokraterne still the largest at the local level

Yesterday’s local elections saw far-left party Enhedslisten (EL) grab eleven seats in Copenhagen’s City Council, becoming the capital's second largest party.

After cutting a deal with Socialdemokraterne (S) – returning mayor Frank Jensen’s party – Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF) and Radikale (R), EL's lead candidate, Morten Kabell, is now the city’s new deputy mayor for technical and environmental affairs. The appointment to the powerful position was a major setback for Venstre, whose lead candidate Pia Allerslev had her sights set on deputy mayor spot and warned against putting Kabell into such a high position in City Hall, saying that EL’s campaign against cars in Copenhagen was bad for the city. Kabell and his party had campaigned on a platform that prioritised bicycles and public transport over personal vehicles.

EL surged forward by 8.5 percentage points in yesterdays voting, ending up with 19.5 percent of Copenhagen voters.

At the party’s celebration last night at Copenhagen’s Søpavillionen, party spokesperson Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen was jubilant.

“This is the best local election ever for Enhedslisten,” she crowed from the stage.

READ MORE: Cars battle bikes in local election showdown

DF lands first Copenhagen mayoral position
Despite the left-wing surge in Copenhagen, it emerged early Wednesday morning that the far-right Dansk Folkeparti would be given its first ever deputy mayor position in Denmark's largest city. Ritzau reported that after a night of negotiations, it was agreed that DF's Carl Christian Ebbesen will be given one of two deputy mayor positions allotted to the opposition parties. Venstre's Allerslev will be the other, though it was still unclear which positions they would receive.

SF was the big loser in Copenhagen, dropping 12.3 percent points compared to the 2009 vote. Venstre saw a small gain, while Jensen’s S party slipped back by 2.2 percent, garnering 27.8 percent of the vote in Copenhagen.

It was a good night all around for EL, which saw its numbers triple nationwide. And although things were not as rosy for S as they could have been, they were certainly not as bad as public broadcaster DR's exit prognoses had predicted all night long. Although the party slipped a few points and lost a few mayoral positions, Socialdemokraterne remain Denmark's largest party at the council level to the chagrin of Venstre, which looked poised to stake that claim.

Exit poll nightmare
The exit polls were so dismal for S throughout the night, that PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S) took to the stage at Vega in Copenhagen to apologise for her part in the presumed disastrous loss to Venstre.

“We have to tell it like it is,” she said. “We have not won the election, as we hoped for.”

It turned out her mea culpa was premature.

Just as the pundits were about to begin pontificating and the editorials about S’s demise were about to go to press, the final numbers came in showing that S indeed still held the lead – 29.5 percent  to 26.7 percent over V – and that Lars Løkke Rassmussen and his team would have to re-chill the champagne for another day.

“I think it is bizarre that the exit polls have been so wrong,” S spokesperson Magnus Heunicke told BT newspaper. “The forecasts were completely skewed and the media has a responsibility to present something of decent quality when making these kinds of projections.”

Heunicke acknowledged that the party had slipped a bit, but pointed out that there is still a S majority in Denmark’s four largest cities: Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg.

Both DR and polling group Epinion apologised overnight for the erroneous polls, which some said actually damaged the election process nationwide.

“Although we stressed that polls can have errors, these are more inaccurate than we would like,” Epinion partner Møgens Jakobsen told DR Nyheder.

The editor-in-chief of Berlingske newspaper, Lisbeth Knudsen, criticised publishing exit poll results while polls were still open.

“It shows disrespect for democracy,” she said.

SF nightmare
While declines for S were moderate, yesterday’s vote was a disaster for national government coalition party SF, which got only 5.6 percent of the vote, a significant decline from the 14.5 percent the party earned in 2009 under the leadership of Villy Søvndal. 

"It would have been fun to be here tonight with arms in the air and a fantastic result, but that did not happen,” current SF leader Annette Vilhelmsen, told the SF election night party crowd at Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen. “It is not your fault. It is clear that I have to take responsibility.”

SF lost all of its seats in several councils.

Other parties seemed to have grabbed some of the votes SF lost yesterday. Enhedslisten tripled its tally from 2.3 percent in 2009 to 6.9, while Dansk Folkeparti earned 10.1 percent of yesterday’s vote, two points higher than 2009. Radikale and Liberal Alliance also showed small gains nationally.

This year’s voter turnout was up as well, with 71.9 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot as opposed to 65.8 during the last local elections.