Far-right Danish People’s Party chooses new leader

The scandal-hit politician Morten Messerschmidt has been chosen as the new leader of the far-Right Danish People's Party, despite an ongoing case over his alleged defrauding of EU funds.

Far-right Danish People's Party chooses new leader
The Danish People's Party's new leader Morten Messerschmidt holds a bouquet aloft after being elected on Sunday. Photo: Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Messerschmidt won 60 percent of the 825 votes, easily beating the two other candidates, Martin Henriksen and Merete Dea Larsen.

In a speech after the vote in Herning, the party’s Jutland heartland, Messerschmidt struck a conciliatory tone, saying he hoped to unite the struggling party.

“There will now come a time when we will make our party whole again, where we will gather our party together, and where there will be a place for everyone,” he said. “There will not be any repercussions for what has happened in the time that is now passed. Now we will look forward together.”

Messerschmidt was convicted in August of forging documents and defrauding EU funds. But the judge in the case has since been declared incompetent, meaning the case now needs to be heard in a district court, and perhaps later in Sweden’s high court.

In the run-up to the election, several Danish People’s Party MPs described the ongoing case as a serious hurdle for Messerschmidt’s candidacy.

The harsh conflict between the candidates led party founder Pia Kjærsgaard to describe the leadership contest as the worst she had seen since starting the party in 1995. 

Henriksen, an anti-immigration firebrand who has been one of the party’s staunchest critics of Islam, has predicted that he will be sidelined under Messerschmidt. Several other MPs had openly aired their plans to leave the party if Messerschmidt was appointed leader.

During the campaign, Henriksen laid the blame for many of the party’s problems on his rival, who has been deputy leader since 2020.

“Over the last two to three years, everything has gone completely wrong, and this has happened at the same time as the [person occupying] the second-highest post in the party has changed,” he said.

Messerschmidt announced before the vote that he would make Peter Kofod, a 31-year-old MEP and former primary school teacher, his deputy if elected.

He campaigned on a pledge to form a coalition government with the centre-Right Liberal Party if the right-wing parties achieve a majority in the coming general election. He has also pledged to campaign for a referendum on Denmark’s membership of the European Union.

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‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.