Denmark is to hold an early general election in November over a scandal engulfing the government because of the 2020 cull of the country’s entire 17 million mink population.
Mette Frederiksen, the prime minister, called the ballot on Wednesday after a member of her ruling alliance threatened to withdraw its support over the mass slaughter.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, authorities feared that a mutation of the virus detected in the animals would spread to people and hamper the effectiveness of vaccines.
The killings sent shockwaves around the world, with photos of mink carcasses being tipped into mass graves laying bare the sheer number of animals affected. Denmark is one of the world’s main mink fur exporters, with its main markets being China and Hong Kong. Ms Frederiksen defended her actions, saying the order to carry out the mass cull "was the right decision".
Ms Frederiksen opted to hold an early election on November 1 ― seven months before a constitutional deadline ― after her parliament ally said voters should be the judge of her handling of the cull.
The ballot comes months after the Social Democrat leader was reprimanded for the government’s illegal order to terminate the mink, sending support for her party tumbling. Recent polls suggest she would lose power to the centre-right opposition.
In an attempt to offset such a scenario, Ms Frederiksen plans to run a campaign to form a grand coalition that would encompass her political rivals in the Cabinet, breaking a four-decade precedent. Leaders of Denmark’s main opposition parties have all rebuffed her idea, citing the mink cull as the reason not to rule alongside her.
On Wednesday, the prime minister said it was “time to test a new form of government in Denmark”. She said that the country of 5.8 million faces an “international crisis on security policy, energy policy and the economy”.
“The most important political task is to deal with insecurity and get Denmark through the crisis,” she said.
While public confidence in Ms Frederiksen has waned, according to surveys, she is still regarded by some as a credible figure to be at the helm of the country during uncertain times.
Last week’s explosions in the Nord Stream pipelines running under the Baltic Sea happened in Denmark’s and neighbouring Sweden’s exclusive economic zones.
Ms Frederiksen said the incidents were “clearly an act of sabotage”. Moscow has denied it was behind the blasts, blaming the West for the incidents, which resulted in huge amounts of methane being emitted into the atmosphere.
A poll of Danes in September showed voters expect health policy, the economy and the environment to dominate the election campaigns.
The Scandinavian country’s central bank last month cut its outlook for next year and 2024, saying rising inflation is the economy’s biggest challenge. Unemployment is close to long-term records and most analysts estimate that the Danish economy is already contracting. Economists say a recession could possibly hit in 2023.