COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Social Democrat Helle Thorning-Schmidt is set to become Denmark’s first female prime minister, having persuaded voters she fix can the economy to win a close election race and end 10 years of center-right rule.
Thorning-Schmidt will try to form a center-left coalition to replace the Liberal-Conservative government of Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen.
Although her party leadership hung in the balance only four years ago after she lost the 2007 election to another Rasmussen, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Thorning-Schmidt successfully forged an alliance with the Left that drove home to voters that the incumbent had failed them in a crisis.
The 45-year-old has promised to turn the economy around, partly with plan to make Danes work 12 minutes more per day but without making life for one of the world’s most heavily taxed people even more expensive.
She has said she will kick start growth by investing in education and infrastructure to create jobs.
Rasmussen and other opponents derided her plan as “12 minutes’ money” as opposed to “real money.”
For months opinion polls showed Thorning-Schmidt was headed for power, but Rasmussen narrowed the gap in the final stretch.
Thorning-Schmidt is now expected to form a government that would consist of her own party, her main ally the Socialist People’s Party and possibly the centrist Social Liberals and leftist Red-Green Alliance.
Analysts say that will be a difficult task because the parties disagree on key points of economic policy, and such a coalition could prove to be weak and short-lived.
In 2005 she went against the advice of her father-in-law, Neil Kinnock, a former British Labour Party leader and European Commissioner, not to “pick up the shirt” and stand for the leadership to unite a fractured party.
In April that year, she was elected head of the Social Democrats just two months after she won a seat in parliament.
On her way to the top, Thorning-Schmidt fought to shake off an image in the media of an upper-class blonde socialist with expensive handbags and the nickname “Gucci Helle.”
The nickname infuriated the normally composed Thorning-Schmidt, who once replied to one critical colleague: “Don’t call me ‘Gucci’ just because I‘m not walking around looking like a sack of shit like you.”
She defended sending her eldest daughter to private school and battled with the Danish media for prying into her and her husband Stephen Kinnock’s tax affairs.
She grew up in a Copenhagen suburb, the daughter of divorced parents, and her interest in politics budded in high school where she was active in peace movements and supported the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa.
She studied political science at university, taking a particular interest in the European Union.
She went on to study at the European College in Bruges in Belgium, which she has described as a life-changing experience.
There she met her husband, who is the son of Neil and Glenys Kinnock, and a director at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
It was also in Bruges that she decided to join the Social Democratic Party in Denmark.
In 1999 she was elected to the European Parliament, but chose not to seek re-election and instead turned to Danish politics and returned home.
Reporting by Mette Fraende