Scandinavia socialists sweep board

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The Independent Online
FAMILIAR shades of red spread across more of Scandinavia last night with the return to power of the Social-Democratic-led government in Denmark's general election. The coalition of Social Democrats, Social Liberals and centrist parties led by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, Prime Minister since the Conservative-led government fell last year, won enough votes to form a government after Danes reacted against the threat to cut their welfare system from the Conservative-Liberal bloc.

Although they failed to win an overall majority, the final count gave Mr Nyrup's coalition about 42 per cent; their right-wing opponents got just below 38 per cent. Mr Nyrup, who led his supporters in singing 'When I see a red flag flying', as he arrived in the folketing last night, declared: 'We are the ones who have to safeguard our welfare society. We are writing history tonight - important history - and after more than 10 years in opposition we have created hope for thousands of people.'

In Sweden, the leader of Mr Rasmussen's sister party, Ingvar Carlsson, announced he would form a Social Democratic minority government after the Social Democrats beat the Conservative- led government in Sunday's elections. The announcement ended speculation that Mr Carlsson, whose party captured 45 per cent of the vote, would form a coalition with the Liberal Party. The leader of the latter group, Bengt Westerberg, resigned yesterday, after his party won only 7 per cent.

These developments suggest voters in the Nordic region support custodians of the traditional welfare model. The Danish Conservatives and Liberals lost support after they were forced into co- operation with the Progress Party. They advocate dismantling the welfare state.

Although the Progress Party cleaned up its image by toning down xenophobic rhetoric, the Danes are voting on issues closer to home. 'The archetypal Jensen family are in no doubt what it means to them when they sit on the sofa and watch these guys on television,' said one official. 'Mrs Jensen wonders if she will still have the benefit of free child care, and if the answer is 'no', the Jensens will say to these parties: 'You won't get elected with our help'.'

The Liberal-Conservative bloc also alienated voters through the figure of Uffe Ellemann Jensen, the Liberal leader and former foreign minister, whom the Danes consider arrogant. Speculation continued as to whether Mr Ellemann Jensen would be appointed chief of Nato, displacing Willie Claes of Belgium. Mr Ellman Jensen, who admitted he would not be Prime Minister this time round, said reports of his being in the running for Nato were 'exciting and flattering'.

While Sweden and Norway have a long tradition of purely Social Democratic government, Denmark has ensured against one- party domination by allowing parliamentary representation for any party polling more than 2 per cent. This explains why it experienced Conservative-led rule under Poul Schluter for much of the past decade. 'The Schluter version was acceptable to middle-class voters, it was not like the Thatcher version,' said one official.

Mr Schluter's government fell last year, following a scandal surrounding illegal blocks on immigration by Tamils.

It is widely believed the Social Democrats are the only party that can persuade Euro-sceptic Danish voters to accept the reforms in the European Union that will have to go to a referendum after the 1996 inter-governmental conference. Mr Nyrup may have a problem, however, if he has to rely on support from the small Unity List party.

Finland, which, like Sweden and Denmark, is to vote on EU membership in a referendum this autumn, is now the only country in the region without a Social Democratic government. That is expected to change after the general election next March.