Copenhagen: Danish voters appeared set to elect their first female prime minister Thursday and end 10 years of pro-market reforms and a hardening of immigration laws.
Separate exit polls released by broadcasters TV2 and DR with two hours of voting remaining predicted a majority in the 179-seat parliament for the left-leaning opposition led by Social Democratic leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
Both showed her "red bloc" with a seven-seat advantage over the center-right government coalition led by Lars Loekke Rasmussen, though the DR exit poll didn`t count the four seats allocated to the semiautonomous territories of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands.
If that outcome stands, Thorning-Schmidt would become the first woman to head a Danish government. It would also stem the influence of the current government`s anti-immigration ally, the Danish People`s Party.
"Now we have the opportunity to change Denmark and get a new majority. We must grab this opportunity," Thorning-Schmidt, 44, told reporters after voting in Copenhagen.
For the past decade, the government has relied on the backing of the anti-immigrant Danish People`s Party, enacting reforms to make Denmark more business friendly and less welcoming to asylum-seekers from developing countries.
In consensus-oriented Denmark, there is broad agreement on having a robust welfare system financed by high taxes, but the government and the opposition differ on the depth of austerity measures needed to keep Denmark`s finances intact amid Europe`s debt crisis.
Thorning-Schmidt wants to dodge some of the government`s welfare cuts and raise taxes on banks and the wealthy. Loekke Rasmussen has ruled out any tax hikes.
"We need sound public finances without raising taxes," Loekke Rasmussen, 47, told reporters after casting his ballot in Graested, north of Copenhagen.
A Megafon poll Thursday gave the opposition 51 percent of votes and a five-seat advantage over the government in parliament. The gap was 13 seats in a Ramboell survey.
The polls did not include the four seats allocated to the semiautonomous territories of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. Each poll was based on interviews with about 1,000 people and the margin of error ranged between 2.5 and 3.0 percentage points.