Denmark's centre-left opposition 'heading for victory'
The leader of Denmark's Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, was poised to become the country's first female prime minister after exit polls on Thursday showed her left-leaning coalition winning an absolute majority in parliament.
AFP - Danes on Thursday appeared set to vote the centre-left into power after a decade in opposition, ushering in the country's first woman prime minister, according to two early exit polls published before voting ended.
One exit poll of 5,000 voters, published by public broadcaster TV2 two hours before polls close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT), showed the left-leaning opposition headed by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, 44, winning an absolute majority with 93 of the 179 seats in parliament.
Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen's centre-right government and parliamentary supporters meanwhile garnered 86 seats, according to the poll.
Another exit poll by public broadcaster DR gave the opposition 51.2 percent of the vote against 48.8 percent for the ruling centre-right.
Thorning-Schmidt, the daughter-in-law of British Labour politician Neil Kinnock, is thus set to become Denmark's first woman prime minister.
During the campaign, she has vowed to shore up Denmark's welfare state and stimulate its slumping economy with spending, in contrast to the austerity measures proposed by Rasmussen, 47.
The expected defeat by the coalition government, made up of Rasmussen's Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, will end the powerful influence wielded by its key parliamentary ally, the populist, anti-immigration Danish People's Party (DPP).
Earlier, under a clear blue sky, Rukshana, a 50-year-old daycare worker, was among the throngs of Danes voting in the working-class Copenhagen neighbourhood of Valby.
"I'm voting for the red bloc (centre-left), because they are good for the Danish population. We have had enough of (DPP leader) Pia Kjaersgaard," said the Danish citizen of Pakistani origin, decrying how Denmark over the past decade has introduced some of the most draconian immigration laws in Europe.
While she touched on the once-heated immigration issue, the election campaign primarily focused on how to stir the country out of the slump caused by the global financial crisis.
The government "should have hit the brakes instead of just cruising along. Everyone could see that the economy was overheated," complained Per, a 71-year-old retired engineer, after casting his vote at a school in a wind-swept central Copenhagen late Thursday afternoon.
"We need a new government," he said, adding he had voted for the Social Democrats, "the lesser of two evils."
By 6:00 pm (1600 GMT), 72.6 percent of Denmark's some four million eligible voters had already cast their ballot, according to a Ritzau news agency survey, and when polling stations close at 8:00 pm total turnout is expected to be even higher than in 2007, when it ticked in at 86.5 percent.
Opinion polls have since the election was called in late August consistently handed the left-leaning opposition, made up of the Social Democrats, Social Liberals, Socialist People's Party and Red Greens a clear lead over the government and its parliamentary supporters, the DPP, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Alliance.
Rasmussen however insisted Thursday morning he was not ready to give up.
"I will be on the campaign trail until the polling booths close," he told AFP after casting his vote at the small hamlet of Graested, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Copenhagen, covered in campaign posters showing his smiling face.
The clearly pro-Rasmussen village even sported a whiteboard offering "50 percent off on your next car service if you vote for Lars".
In Copenhagen, where large parts of the centre have already been closed to traffic in anticipation of next week's world road race cycling championships, Thorning-Schmidt meanwhile cast her vote in the upscale neighbourhood of Osterbro.
"Now it's up to the voters. We have run a very hard and good campaign," the as always impeccably dressed party chief told reporters, adding with a smile: "I will be voting for the Social Democrats."