COPENHAGEN — Danish voters handed conservative Prime Minister Poul Schlueter a sharp setback in national elections Tuesday and plunged the country into a political crisis with no clear winner or alternative government in sight.
Far from the increased number of votes the public opinion polls had been predicting, the Conservative People's Party's share of the vote was reduced by 2.5%, and it lost four of its 42 seats in the Folketing, or Parliament.
Of the four rightist parties in the conservative-led coalition, only the Radical Liberal Party managed to improve its share of the vote, adding two seats to the 10 they had when the snap election was called three weeks ago.
Two Seats Lost
However, the country's largest political party, the Social Democrats, headed by former Prime Minister Ankers Jorgensen, also dropped 2%, losing two seats. The Social Democrats appear to be in no position to take the lead in forming a government.
Danish political commentators called the election outcome everything from "difficult" to "disastrous"--and the most impossible distribution of the 179 seats in the Folketing the country has seen since the end of World War II.
With nine political parties in Parliament, the old conservative coalition can now command only 82 seats, while the leftist parties have 80. Neither side has the necessary majority of 90, and commentators agree that new elections will almost certainly be called, probably early in the new year.
The biggest gainer in political terms was the veteran anti-tax campaigner Mogens Glistrup, making a comeback after serving four years in prison for tax fraud. He now returns to the Folketing as head of the Progress Party, which increased its seats from six to nine and may hold the deciding votes.
Will Try to Govern
Despite the electoral rebuff, Prime Minister Schlueter told his supporters late Tuesday that he will not resign and will attempt to continue to govern on the assumption that he will not be voted out of office when Parliament reconvenes.
The Radical Party leader, Niels Petersen, in supporting Schlueter, commented that "the government lost the election but the opposition didn't win."
Denmark, which has a proportional representation election system and a long tradition of fragmented politics without much extremism, is used to rocking along with shaky coalition governments. But even by Danish standards, this is one of the worst political muddles the country has ever faced.