Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Denmark: Immigrant suffrage at risk

The heading at the Copenhagen Post is misleading: We are not dealing with immigrants, but with non-citizens. In Denmark, and in Scandinavia in general, non-citizens are allowed to vote in local/municipal (but not national) elections after living in the country for about three years. I find this practice profoundly undemocratic, and it is starting to become a real problem in major Scandinavian cities. In Pakistan, "floor switching" is very common, meaning that you are elected as candidate for one party, and then switch party after the election if somebody else gives you "a better deal". A nice term for corruption:

Immigrant suffrage at risk

Anger over an immigrant politician's decision to switch parties right after last week's local election has the Liberal Party, Denmark's largest party and the party of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, considering ways to exclude non-citizens from local elections, regional daily Fyens Stiftstidene reported on Wednesday. The party has previously been a supporter of the rule allowing foreign citizens living in Denmark to vote and run in municipal elections after three years of residence. 'We've got some very permissive regulations in this area, and we should consider whether we should demand Danish citizenship in order to participate in local elections, just as it is in national elections,' said Liberal spokesman for municipal issues, Leif Mikkelsen. The sudden change of attitude comes on the heels of revelations that a Liberal city counsellor in Copenhagen, Wallait Khan, had simultaneously run for election in Copenhagen and in his native country of Pakistan. In addition to running - and losing - the race for vice mayor, Khan has also drawn attention to himself by switching parties immediately after the 15 November municipal elections in Denmark. Khan's switch was crucial in determining the make up of the leadership of the council. Khan pointed out that he was not the only Danish resident running for office in Pakistan.

The revelation failed to sit well with a number of political parties, and some are nearing the position taken by the right-wing Danish People's Party, which has been the only party to support a rule change to exclude non-citizens from local elections. Supporters of non-citizen voting rights have called them a good tool for foreigners to learn about Denmark's democratic traditions. Social Liberal Party municipal affairs spokesman Ole Glahn said he was shaken by the Liberals' new stance. 'Using a single instance like this one to exclude all non-citizens from municipal elections is too much. This says a lot about how much the Liberals have come under the influence of the Danish People's Party,' Glahn said, referring to the alliance between the minority coalition government and the Danish People's Party. The Liberals' governing partner, the Conservatives, was also against preventing non-citizens from voting. 'We've already made it more difficult to become a citizen. Should we also take away immigrants' ability to influence local issues like schools and nursing homes?' asked Conservative municipal issues spokesman Christian Wedell-Neergaard.

Councillor's Pakistani campaign criticised

Wallait Khan, a renegade councillor whose defection from the Liberal Party secured left-of-centre parties a dominating position in Copenhagen after last week's local elections, has raised eyebrows for pursuing a political career in Pakistan as well as Denmark. Khan was elected councillor for the Liberal Party in Copenhagen on Tuesday, only to defect two days later to join the Socialist People's Party. His decision allowed Social Democratic mayor-to-be Ritt Bjerregaard to form a coalition with the Socialists. "We Pakistanis in Europe have a competition between ourselves,' he said. 'We in Denmark compete with Pakistanis living in Norway and England about who holds most mayor posts."

Supporter of the Liberal Party, the Danish People's Party, has earlier called for the same thing:

Danish People's Party demands non-citizens' vote rights revoked

Foreigners should be Danish citizens to be allowed to vote in the local elections this autumn, The Danish People's Party (DF) said on Tuesday. The party's proposal would block up to 200,000 immigrant votes. In this way, the party hopes to stop the advancement of the Radical Liberal Party, which almost doubled its mandates in the parliamentary elections last February, according to daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten. 'Let's be honest. The Radicals are not just café latte-sipping people from the creative class. To a large degree, it is also largely composed of immigrants, and one could fear the result of the upcoming local elections in large cities, where there are large concentrations of immigrants that the Social Liberals pander to,' said DF leader Pia Kjærsgaard. Immigrants from outside the EU and the Nordic countries gain voter rights in local elections after living in Denmark for three years.


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