Danes re-elect center-right coalition

.COPENHAGEN – Denmark (AP) _ Danes re-elected the governing coalition to a third term Tuesday, endorsing its economic and tough immigration policies. But the group must now decide whether to seek support from a Muslim leader’s party that wants better treatment for asylum-seekers.

With 100 percent of votes counted, unofficial results gave the center-right governing bloc 95 of the 179 seats in Parliament, compared with 84 opposition seats.

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s coalition’s total includes five seats won by the New Alliance party headed by Syrian-born Naser Khader. Without the Alliance, the governing bloc would still have a slight majority. But the group now faces tough talks on whether to formally expand to include Khader.

New Alliance has been calling for a more humane response by the government toward migrants seeking asylum, and has also tried 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.

But he said that he would wait for the official vote tally, expected Wednesday, before deciding whether to invite New Alliance to the government bloc.

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.”

Since 2001, Liberal-Conservative minority governments relied only on the support of the Danish People’s Party.

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.

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.