Denmark set for close election
Debates over welfare state and immigration dominate Danish election campaign.
Last Modified: 13 Nov 2007 08:18 GMT
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, of the Social Democrats , has criticised the government for cutting taxes [AFP]
Denmark is voting in a general election focused on the welfare state and immigration amid predictions of a narrow victory for the governing centre-right coalition.
Polling stations opened across Denmark at 9:00 am (0800 GMT) on Tuesday and close at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT), with first estimates expected around an hour later.
Immigration has been a key election question as the government has implemented some of the most restrictive immigration laws in Europe over the past four years.
Refugees entering Denmark have decreased in number from about 10,000 in 2001 to less than 2,000 last year.
Immigration row
The anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DPP), a parliamentary ally of the Liberal-Conservative government, is viewed by many as instigating such changes.
The DPP has criticised Muslim immigrants and refugees during the campaign for taking advantage of the country's welfare system and not respecting Danish traditions.
However, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister, also made it one of his election pledges in 2001 to cut immigration.
"Before we took over in 2001, it was nearly impossible to find jobs and housing for all the immigrants coming to Denmark," Rasmussen, 54, said on Monday.
"This is why the Danish people decided to change government. Opinion polls show the broad majority supports the current immigration policy."
With the DPP, the government is relying on support from the centrist New Alliance party led by Naser Khader, a Syrian-born Muslim immigrant, to win.
The New Alliance was hoped to be an alternative to the far-right DPP. The latter is widely viewed as holding the role of kingmaker.
The leftist opposition argue that the DPP and the New Alliances' immigration policies will clash.
Healthy economy
Rasmussen’s government's healthy economic record since coming to power has been a key feature of his campaign.
Rasmussen has asserted that a buoyant economy leads to a strong welfare system – a principal issue with voters.
It is argued that lower unemployment will lead to greater tax revenues to fund the welfare state. Danes have demanded improvements to the country's schools, healthcare facilities, daycare centres and nursing homes.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the opposition Social Democrat chairwoman, has argued that the welfare state has been endangered by government tax cuts and their proposed tax freeze.
Fluctuating polls
The Liberal-Conservative government and the DPP have led public opinion polls since the snap election was called three weeks ago, but the lead has diminished in the past few days.
Six different polls show that Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister, and his allies are to gain 85 to 89 seats in parliament.
Between 80 and 83 seats are estimated to go to the opposing centre-left parties.
The New Alliance gained support earlier this year and was one reason, with Denmark's expanding economy, why Rasmussen called the election 15 months early.
The New Alliance's popularity has plunged in the past few weeks.
The final polls showed between 10 and 20 per cent of Denmark's four million eligible voters are undecided, enough to swing the result.
In a televised debate on Monday evening Rasmussen said: "This election is very close. You can't count your chickens before they're hatched."
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