Denmark's voters left the country in political stalemate after today's national election by deserting Prime Minister Anker Jorgensen's left-of-center Social Democratic government in apparent protest against high unemployment and years of chronic economic crisis.
After his party lost about one-eighth of its share of the vote and seats in Parliament, Jorgensen said tonight his minority government would remain in office as a caretaker while Queen Margarethe began the search for a new government through negotiations with leaders of the nine parties represented in the new Parliament. The election left the Parliament almost evenly divided between parties of the left and right, with small centrist parties holding the balance of power.
Political leaders gathered in the Parliament building for the returns said it was impossible to predict whether the new government would be formed by Jorgensen's Social Democrats, who are identified with Denmark's generous welfare state, or by a coalition of right-of-center parties who promise voters they would drastically reduce government spending and taxes on businesses.
Analysts said the negotiations could last for weeks, producing a political crisis like that recently experienced by the Netherlands and currently gripping Belgium. Each of the three is a high-income, high-tax country whose politics have been destabilized by the demands of expensive welfare states on economies suffering badly from inflation and recession.
Jorgensen, 59, is still Denmark's most popular politician, according to opinion polls and the election results. He has been prime minister for eight of the last nine years in a succession of relatively short-lived, minority Social Democratic governments. But he said tonight that this, the country's sixth election in the past decade, had produced a Parliament with which "it will be almost impossible to govern the country."
The Social Democrats won 33 percent of the vote and 59 of the 175 seats in the Danish Parliament, down from 38 percent and 68 seats in the last election two years ago. Jorgensen blamed the losses on the difficult economic decisions his government has had to make in recent years, including imposing unprecedented postwar austerity on Denmark, which remains one of the richest countries in the world in per capita income.
The biggest gain was made by the more left-wing Socialist People's Party, with more than 11 percent of the vote and 20 seats in Parliament, double its share in 1979. Its leader, Gert Petersen, said voters had deserted the Social Democrats for his party because Jorgensen had put more priority on trying to reduce trade and budget deficits than on trying to reduce unemployment.
On the right, the Conservative Party increased its seats in Parliament from 22 to 26, while its intended coalition partner, the Liberals, won 21 seats, one less than in 1979. The Center Democratic Party dramatically increased its strength from six to 15 seats after promising during the campaign to support a right-of-center coalition.
The far right-wing, antitax Progress Party of controversial tax lawyer Mogens Glistrup won only 15 parliamentary seats, down from 20 seats two years ago. It was the party's worst showing since being formed in the early 1970s as a protest against Demmark's high tax rates. It suffered from Glistrup's sentencing, just weeks before the election, to four years in prison after being convicted of "gross tax evasion" for a complex corporate tax-avoidance scheme he devised for himself and about 20,000 clients. He has been free on bail during the election campaign while appealing his conviction.
Conservative Party leader Poul Schlueter said his party had earned the right to head a governmental alternative to Jorgensen's Social Democrats. But Schlueter acknowledged that the two blocs appeared to be almost evenly split.
The balance of power could be held by one of the small centrist parties, the Radical Liberals, which won nine parliamentary seats. Its leaders said they want to create a grand coalition of parties across the political spectrum to devise and implement a long-term solution to Denmark's economic problems. This has so far been considered unlikely by most political analysts here.
The election had been seen as a test of how far Scandinavians were willing to move politically to the right in their search for relief from high taxes and economic stagnation. Largely by promising to reduce taxes and curb welfare state spending, conservative parties had been steadily gaining support during the past several years in national and local elections in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
Denmark's Conservative and Liberal parties promised during the election campaign to cut government spending much more drastically here. They propose slashing next year's budget by 8 percent, which would mean limiting unemployment and social welfare benefits for many Danes and charging fees for some currently free health services. They also proposed sizable new tax benefits for businesses to encourage private investment in Danish industry.
Jorgensen claimed his Social Democrats already had begun increasing Danish exports and improving the competitiveness of its industry with inflation-fighting austerity. But the price of this has been more than a doubling of the number of unemployed to nearly 10 percent of the work force and a reduction of more than 10 percent in the purchasing power of the average Danish family.
An election day opinion survey conducted by Danish television showed voters to be more concerned about high unemployment and the idleness and lawlessness they believed it was creating among young Danes than about tax cuts or improving Denmarks trade balance. Restoring East-West detente and slowing the nuclear arm race also ranked high among their concerns, which is another reason some analysts here cited for the sharp rise in voter support for the antinuclear, anti-NATO Socialist People's Party.
At the same time, however, the most recent Gallup Poll on the subject showed record high Danish support for NATO membership, and little change is expected to be made in Danish foreign or defense policies by whoever finally assumes governmental power.
Earlier this year, the Conservative, Liberal and some center parties reached agreement with the Social Democrats on a plan to gradually increase Danish defense spending during the next several years, a decision that will be binding on the new government.