Danes re-elected the center-right governing coalition to a third consecutive term Tuesday, endorsing a bloc that campaigned on promises to boost the economy and make immigration harder.
But near-complete official results also suggested Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen might need the backing of a new party headed by a Syrian-born Muslim immigrant that is calling for more humane treatment of asylum-seekers.
That group, New Alliance, hopes to reduce the influence of the government’s traditional ally, the nationalist Danish People’s Party, known for its hardline stance against immigrants, especially Muslims.
“Everything indicates that the government can continue,” Fogh Rasmussen told jubilant supporters of his Liberal Party.
He called it “historic” that a Liberal-led government had been elected to a third term.
Left-wing opposition leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt of the Social Democrats conceded defeat in a tearful speech to her supporters.
“I promised I would beat Anders Fogh Rasmussen. That didn’t happen, unfortunately,” she said. “Danes need more time before they hand over responsibility to us.”
With 99 percent of votes counted, the governing bloc had won 94 of the 179 seats in Parliament, including five for Naser Khader’s New Alliance. The opposition got 81 seats.
It was not immediately clear who won the remaining four seats, held by delegates from the semiautonomous territories of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands.
While that result would not change the government’s victory, it could decide whether it needs need the support of Khader’s party to control a majority in Parliament.
Since 2001, Liberal-Conservative minority governments relied only on the support of the Danish People’s Party.
Fogh Rasmussen appeared to invite New Alliance to cooperate with the government. “We’ll incorporate the parties that have pointed at me to create the basis for the government,” he said.
The prime minister called the early election three weeks ago, taking advantage of favorable approval ratings buoyed by Denmark’s strong economy. The jobless rate is 3.1 percent, the lowest in three decades, and the economy grew 3.5 percent last year.
Immigration, welfare and taxes were the main issues in the campaign, although there was broad agreement on keeping Denmark’s cradle-to-grave welfare system.
A total of 808 candidates ran, representing nine parties with 12 independents. Nearly 72 percent of the country’s 4 million voters had cast ballots, up from 68.5 percent in 2005, the Danish Ritzau news agency said.
Khader, a karate black belt who once dreamed of becoming Palestinian foreign minister, has said he wants to pull the prime minister away from the influence of the Danish People’s Party hard-line leader, Pia Kjaersgaard.
Shaping tight immigration laws
Even though it holds no Cabinet seats, Kjaersgaard’s populist group has been instrumental in shaping Denmark’s tight immigration laws, which have cut the number of asylum-seekers by 84 percent since 2001.
New Alliance has not proposed easing immigration laws. Rather it is calling for more rights for asylum-seekers, saying they should be allowed to work or study in Denmark while awaiting a decision on sending them home.
Kjaersgaard opposes such a move, saying it would only attract more asylum-seekers with no hope of staying permanently in Denmark.
Khader and Kjaersgaard were key figures during Denmark’s most turbulent days since World War II: the wave of Muslim rioting last year that broke out after a Danish newspaper published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Kjaersgaard’s party said the crisis showed Islamic traditions clash with the foundations of Danish society, such as freedom of speech. Khader formed a party of moderate Muslims as a counterbalance to Islamic radicals.
Immigration is expected to remain a key issue for years.
Economists and Danish corporate leaders say the Nordic country needs to open its doors to more workers from abroad to keep the economy growing. Fogh Rasmussen has said he will push for a U.S.-style green card system to allow more skilled foreign workers to enter Denmark.