Denmark's hard line on migration dominates general election

Second woman prime minister expected to emerge from Wednesday's voting

FILE - In this Friday Sept. 23, 2016 file photo, Danish Social Democrats chairman Mette Frederiksen gestures, during her opening speech at the Social Democratic Party's Congress 2016 in Aalborg, Denmark. A member of Denmark’s parliament, since 2001, she comes from a working-class background and has insisted on forming a one-party government if her party can garner a majority in upcoming general election Wednesday June 5, 2019. (Rene Schutze/Polfoto via AP, File)
FILE - In this Friday Sept. 23, 2016 file photo, Danish Social Democrats chairman Mette Frederiksen gestures, during her opening speech at the Social Democratic Party's Congress 2016 in Aalborg, Denmark. A member of Denmark’s parliament, since 2001, she comes from a working-class background and has insisted on forming a one-party government if her party can garner a majority in upcoming general election Wednesday June 5, 2019. (Rene Schutze/Polfoto via AP, File)

Campaign promises to be tough on migrants look set to propel Denmark's centre-left Social Democrats back to power in Wednesday's general election.

Capitalising on the continuing disruption to the norms of European politics that resulted from the 2015 migrant wave, the party is expected to oust it Liberal-led rivals led by Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen.

The Social Democrats leader Mette Frederiksen has said she expects to form a minority government that can draw support from the right and the left on a measure by measure basis.

Immigration issues have shaped the campaign. "There is a limit as to how many people we can take in and preserve (Denmark's) welfare state," Nicolai Wammen, Ms Frederiksen's deputy has said.

The party, which lost power in 2015 after a four year stint marked by post-financial crisis austerity measures, has won back voters it lost to the far-right Danish People's Party.

Under Mr Rasmussen's government, Denmark has grabbed the global headlines with a series of measures that made the country more hostile for the incoming populations.

The new laws range from a ban on garments covering the face, including Islamic veils such as the niqab. The state also sought to save on its welfare bill by requiring newly arrived asylum-seekers to hand over valuables such as jewelry and gold to help pay their own way. Another measure required anyone who acquired Danish citizenship to shake hands at the naturalisation ceremony.

In a deliberate symbolic gesture, Denmark announced that rejected asylum-seekers or those with a criminal record awaiting expulsion, would be housed on an island complex that had previously hosted a defunct laboratory for contagious animal diseases.

A member of parliament since the age of 28, Ms Frederiksen was once liberal on migration issues. Almost two decades ago she denounced Denmark's immigration policy because it was one of the "toughest in Europe".

Policy under her leadership has been far tougher. A proposal last year called for moving asylum seekers to special reception centres outside Europe -- such as North Africa -- while requests were processed.

The policy also mooted a cap "non-Western" immigrants coming into the country.

"Mette Frederiksen knows that if she wants to be successful in Denmark, she has to be strict on asylum and immigration policies," Ulf Hedetoft, a politics professor at the University of Copenhagen.

Ms Frederiksen enjoys a difficult relationship with her predecessor as Social Democrat leader, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who now serves as president of the global charity Save the Children International. When she lost the general election in 2011, she noted that she had broken the Danish glass ceiling but added that other women would follow in her footsteps. “I was Denmark’s first female prime minister, but I won’t be the last,” she said.

Mr Rasmussen's immigration reforms have been so tough, the American girlfriend of his son has been ordered out of the country. He has tried to focus the campaign on climate issues and the defence of the welfare state.

It is not a ploy that has dented Ms Frederiksen's poll-topping performance.

Updated: June 4, 2019 04:09 PM

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