Xeno­pho­bic party soars ahead of Dan­ish poll

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY SVREN BILLING

Den­mark’s anti- im­mi­gra­tion DPP party is ex­pected to post a record score in Thurs­day’s gen­eral elec­tion, which has been marked by de­bate over the place of for­eign­ers in Dan­ish so­ci­ety.

Public opin­ion polls sug­gest al­most one in five Danes, or some 18 per­cent, will vote for the far­right Dan­ish Peo­ple’s Party (DPP), up from 12.3 per­cent in the pre­vi­ous 2011 elec­tion, with im­mi­gra­tion cited as one of the top three cam­paign is­sues be­hind the econ­omy and the coun­try’s cradleto-grave wel­fare state.

The DPP “helps those that need it the most, I think. Hos­pi­tals and the el­derly and nurs­eries. That’s pretty good pol­icy,” said Rita Petersen, a re­tired child­min­der at­tend­ing a re­cent DPP rally in the cen­tral town of Kolding.

The DPP was an in­flu­en­tial player in Dan­ish pol­i­tics from 2001-2011, when it suc­ceeded in im­pos­ing some of Europe’s strictest im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies in ex­change for help­ing suc­ces­sive right-wing gov­ern­ments pass leg­is­la­tion.

Un­der So­cial Demo­cratic Prime Min­is­ter Helle Thorn­ing-Sch­midt, in power since 2011, spend­ing on asy­lum seek­ers has risen but the re­stric­tions have re­mained largely in place.

Petersen is typ­i­cal of the DPP’s voter base: el­derly, work­ing class Danes — 43 per­cent are over the age of 60 — who want to re­duce the amount of money spent on asy­lum seek­ers and un­em­ployed, un­in­te­grated im­mi­grants, in or­der to spend more on health care, pen­sion­ers and child­care.

“We should have more fo­cus on help­ing refugees in need, and we do that by help­ing in the ar­eas sur­round­ing (con­flicts) where we can help a lot of peo­ple. And that’s why we should tighten rules in Den­mark,” DPP leader Kris­tian Thule­sen Dahl told AFP at the Kolding rally, as golden oldies blared from speak­ers next to a tra­di­tional Dan­ish hot dog cart.

While Dan­ish busi­ness is ar­gu­ing the coun­try needs im­mi­grants to sup­port its age­ing pop­u­la­tion, the DPP wants higher pen­sions for low­in­come earn­ers and more state­funded do­mes­tic help for pen­sion­ers.

Few Im­mi­grants Vote

The DPP’s suc­cess in the polls has been at­trib­uted to the fact that Thule­sen Dahl is a less di­vi­sive fig­ure than his out­spo­ken pre­de­ces­sor Pia Kjaers­gaard, ton­ing down some of the party’s most con­tro­ver­sial rhetoric on im­mi­gra­tion in fa­vor of eco­nomic is­sues.

Fe­bru­ary’s twin at­tacks in Copen­hagen — when gun­man Omar El-Hus­sein killed a Dan­ish film­maker out­side a cul­tural cen­ter be­fore open­ing fire at a sy­n­a­gogue, killing a Jewish man — have had no di­rect im­pact on the DPP’s opin­ion rat­ings, but helped keep im­mi­gra­tion on the agenda.

Among Den­mark’s im­mi­grants, voter turnout and in­volve­ment in pol­i­tics is lower than for eth­nic Danes.

Of the 5.7 mil­lion peo­ple living in the Scan­di­na­vian coun­try, 9 per­cent were born abroad, with 296,000 of those com­ing from coun­tries clas­si­fied by Statis­tics Den­mark as “non-West­ern.”

Among the 530,000 Dan­ish res­i­dents from an im­mi­grant back­ground over the age of 18, only a third are cit­i­zens, and within that group, voter turnout trails that of eth­nic Danes by up to 25 per­cent­age points, ac­cord­ing to state­backed think tank Kora.

Den­mark is of­ten cred­ited with pro­duc­ing some of the world’s hap­pi­est peo­ple ac­cord­ing to an an­nual sur­vey by the U.N.

But it has strug­gled to in­te­grate im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties who even af­ter gen­er­a­tions in the coun­try are more likely to end up in crime and un­em­ploy­ment than eth­nic Danes, of­fi­cial statis­tics show.

‘Yalla vote’

Con­cerned by the bad rap immi- grants are get­ting, a small group of im­mi­grant ac­tivists have be­gun to get po­lit­i­cally ac­tive.

“The in­te­gra­tion process has some­times failed,” said Bi­lal El­fout, a lo­cal politi­cian who re­cently launched a Face­book page called “Yalla vote,” urg­ing Dan­ish im­mi­grants to go to the polls on Thurs­day.

And three broth­ers of Pak­istani ori­gin last year founded the “im­mi­grant-friendly” Na­tional Party, which wants to ease up im­mi­gra­tion reg­u­la­tions, lift a ban on re­li­gious sym­bols such as the Is­lamic veil, and wants more staff in the health­care sec­tor.

It won’t be able to field can­di­dates in this year’s elec­tion since some of the 20,000 signatures re­quired to reg­is­ter a new party were filed too late, but the party says its mere ex­is­tence is an im­por­tant step.

“The fact that we have started a party is a sign that we want to be part of Dan­ish so­ci­ety,” said Yahya Has­san, a 20-yearold born to Pales­tinian par­ents who shot to fame in 2013 with a de­but po­etry col­lec­tion crit­i­ciz­ing his vi­o­lent fa­ther and the al­leged hypocrisy of some Mus­lims who com­mit crime.

Af­ter briefly be­com­ing an un­likely dar­ling of Den­mark’s far­right he de­cided to go into pol­i­tics and joined the Na­tional Party, but will run as an in­de­pen­dent this elec­tion.

The Scan­di­na­vian branch of Is­lamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir last week called on Dan­ish Mus­lims to boy­cott the elec­tion, claim­ing democ­racy was “a sink­ing ship.”

To counter those views, El­fout urged fel­low Mus­lims to at­tend a speech in Copen­hagen’s Grand Mosque by an imam on “the ne­ces­sity and le­git­i­macy of po­lit­i­cal work in Den­mark.” Some 200 peo­ple showed up.

The fol­low­ing day the mosque hosted a po­lit­i­cal de­bate with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from most po­lit­i­cal par­ties, but not the DPP.

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