Give me hope. Give me change. Give me the New Alliance Party...

by: Tim Anderson (

If there is a couple of words politicians can be counted on to trade upon time and time again, it's hope and change. The formation of the Ny Alliance Party ('New Alliance') yesterday, Denmark's first new political party in the past 10 years (at least the first to actually hold a seat in parliament, that is), is the latest political development offering up the prospect of a bit of hope and dose of change.

There has been a clear and gaping hole in Danish politics since the last election - which the Ny Alliance are cleverly taking the opportunity to attempt to exploit.

In recent years, there has been a lack of parties in Denmark positioned in the very center. The existing political parties essentially form two dominant clusters - one distinctly right of center (the government of Venstre and Konservative, supported by the Dansk Folkeparti) and one distinctly left of center (Social Demoncrats, Socialistisk Folkeparti, and Radicale Venstre). And plenty of Danish voters have become skeptical of the recipe espoused by the left-of-center parties (they were in government for most of the 90's).

The Ny Alliance are positioning themselves as a just slightly right-of-center, very immigration friendly party dead against the racist politics of the Dansk Folkeparti. Given that their new leader, Nasar Khadar, moved to Denmark with his parents when he was 11, you can probably take them at face value on this particular issue.

For Danish voters opposed to basically everything that the overtly racist Dansk Folkeparti stands for (which isn't that difficult...), but uncomfortable supporting the markedly left-of-center parties on the other side, it has been a frustrating situation.

A quick look at Danish politics (and the composition of Denmark's current parliament) will give you an idea of all that is good and bad with multi-party, coalition governments and a system of proportional representation.

There is a scattering of parties in Denmark with elected parliamentary members, meaning a fair amount of choice for the average voter - and a decent opportunity to find a party that snuggly fits around your personal views and beliefs (and actually has a few elected members of parliament to boot).

On the other hand, the downside of the proportional representation system has been put on vivid display in Denmark over the past several years.

Because it has been the racist Dansk Folkeparti that has held the balance of power and propped up the right-of-center Venstre and Konservative coalition government for a number of years, a predictable and frustrating tilt of policy featuring nationalistic and all-to-often zenophobic legislation being passed has occurred, as a means of appeasing this third party.

This is legislation that the majority of the population in Denmark is
not terribly keen on - indeed many are outright embarrassed by it.

Nonetheless, not wanting another left of center government for the time being, Danish voters have sucked it up and allowed the existing coalition to continue - even knowing that this essentially amounted to handing the racist Dansk Folkparti the spare set of keys to the car.

But the political events of the past week in Denmark have been an excellent indicator of the potential strength of proportional systems of government.

In countries with first past the post systems (i.e. majority plus one), there is normally only two or three strong parties holding virtually all the seats in parliament, with possibly a very weak fringe party grasping onto one or two remaining seats. Meaning voters in such systems are often uncomfortably forced into a straight jacket when it comes to choosing who to vote for. And the main political parties can often get away with ignoring the demands of various segments of the population for extended periods of time.

However in a proportional system, if the opposition parties are not collectively deft enough to position themselves in accordance with a significant enough percentage of the population, another political party can (and will) emerge to fill in the hole. And in a proportional system, often characterised by minority/coalition governments, even a new political party can potentially gain significant influence quite quickly.

What is required of a new party isn't enough votes to form the government, only that they can mop
up a sizable enough pool of disenchanted voters in order to be allocated a few seats in parliament - which can oftentimes prove enough to hold the balance of power. The party holding the 'balance of power' in a proportional system typically has fewer elected members, when compared to a party holding the balance of power in a 'majority plus one' system (which are generally characterised by majority governments, most of the time).

In Denmark, it's exactly what happened when the Dansk Folkparti formed in 1995 and quickly gained strength.

Next election, the magic number for the Ny Alliance to make a real impact in parliament will likely be somewhere around 13% support (the percentage of votes the Dansk Folkparti obtained last time around). It could be much less.

Hence the burst of excitement surrounding the Ny Alliance (and the surge of 14,759 members and counting, who have joined the party in the last 2 days). It may amount to nothing, but with the scent of hope and change now wafting through the air, it certainly has had some affect upon the Danish political climate.

For more on this story, here's a small article from The Copenhagen Post.

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