Scandals dent trust in Danish leadership contender Søren Pape Poulsen Denmark

One of the leading contenders to become Denmark’s next prime minister has stumbled in the polls after revelations of undisclosed meetings and accusations that his husband had made up family links to a former president of the Dominican Republic.

Søren Pape Poulsen, the leader of Denmark’s Conservative People’s Party, announced last week that his marriage was over after it emerged that his husband, Josue Medina Vásquez Poulsen, had no biological relationship to a former president of the Dominican Republic whom he had claimed as an uncle.

Poulsen is also under fire from the governing Social Democrats for undeclared meetings he held as justice minister during a family holiday to the Dominican Republic.

The Conservative leader, who could yet become Denmark’s first gay prime minister, has admitted he was wrong to have held meetings in 2018 with government politicians in the Caribbean country without informing or consulting the Danish foreign ministry.

Pape Poulsen also conceded that his husband, a national of the Dominican Republic, “has said things that are wrong” and there were “misunderstandings”, which he had passed on in “good faith” to others. The statement, published on Facebook earlier this month, came after Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet reported that her husband was not Jewish but came from a family of strongly committed members of the Christian denomination Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Pape Poulsen had told the Danish parliament and Jewish community leaders that his husband was Jewish, seemingly to burnish his credentials on Jewish affairs. The same paper also reported that Vásquez Poulsen’s claim to be a nephew of a former president of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, was incorrect.

The three controversies are a political setback for Pape Poulsen amid growing expectations of snap elections in Denmark.

Social Democrat prime minister Mette Frederiksen is expected to announce in early October the date for parliamentary elections after pressure from her coalition partners to end the government before its term expires in June 2023.

Casper Dall, political editor at Avisen Denmark, a group of 14 regional newspapers, suggested Pape Poulsen had been found wanting under the political spotlight. “It’s both the lack of transparency and the lack of will to tell the truth and to handle this kind of crisis,” he said.

“Søren Pape Poulsen has been in front of the Conservative party for eight years now and this is actually the first time he has been tested and he has not handled it very well.”

Elisabet Svane, a political analyst at the newspaper Politiken, said the undisclosed meetings were the most serious of the scandals that had damaged him in the polls. “For almost a year, he has been the most popular among Danish politicians… The worst thing for Pape Poulsen is that he came to power because he was (seen as) trustworthy. People liked him, they believed him.

“The minute Søren Pape Poulsen said he wanted to be prime minister, he was in a totally different ball game.”

Since the revelations, Pape Poulsen’s rankings have fallen sharply: only 31% of people rate him as one of Denmark’s most trustworthy political leaders, down from 49% in June, according to a poll published last week for Politiken and Denmark’s TV2. The slide in his score puts him almost neck-and-neck with Frederiksen, who was judged as among the most trustworthy by 32% of respondents.

The incumbent prime minister has gained in recent polls after a disastrous summer, when her government was excoriated by an official inquiry for making “grossly misleading” statements about the decision to cull its entire farmed population of 15 million mink during a peak of the Covid- 19 pandemic.

The latest scandals are not the first time Pape Poulsen’s husband has caused him political trouble. In 2018, as justice minister, the Conservative leader made a public apology after his partner was caught drink-driving after a late-night visit to Burger King.

Pape Poulsen met his husband in 2013 in Brussels after a conference where the two clicked over a beer on a sunny June evening, talking about “politics, social models and much more”, according to an account that remains on Pape Poulsen’s official website. Last week he announced their separation: “Josue and I are breaking up… We both agree that our marriage is over and wish each other the best on life’s journey.”

The Social Democrats, who have been piling pressure on Pape Poulsen over the undeclared meetings, are also attacking his tax-cutting economic plan. Poulsen wants to cut personal and corporation taxes, and abolish inheritance tax as part of his pledge to give Danes “greater financial freedom”. The Social Democrats have said the cuts would lead to 40,000 public-sector workers losing their jobs.

“The Social Democrats have made a huge negative campaign against the Conservatives’ economic plans,” Dall said. “Those two things – the scandals and the negative campaign, in my point of view – are the reasons for the decline in the polls.”

“The general impression is that Søren Pape Poulsen is under pressure and he has been tested because he is now in this new league where he is aiming for the prime minister’s office.”

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