“We did it!” opposition leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, 44, told ecstatic supporters, as final results showed her bloc had won Thursday’s vote.
“We made history today,” added the Social Democratic leader as she prepared to become prime minister.
With all the votes from mainland Denmark counted, it was clear the centre-left bloc headed by Thorning-Schmidt had taken 89 seats in Denmark’s 179-seat parliament against 86 for exiting Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen’s centre-right government and parliamentary supporters.
As the results became clear, her supporters went wild, dancing away to James Brown’s “I Feel Good” and waving posters of her smiling face.
Cars honked their horns as they drove past the election party venue, and in Europe’s bicycle capital, many supporters on two wheels rang their bells to hail Thorning-Schmidt, the elegant, blond daughter-in-law of former British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock.
Not far away, the atmosphere at the election party held for Rasmussen’s Liberal Party was less cheerful.
“Earlier this evening I called Helle Thorning-Schmidt. I congratulated her and told her she now has the chance to form a new government,” Rasmussen, 47, told his disappointed supporters.
Rasmussen, whose formation remained the country’s biggest and gained a seat from the 2007 election, to 47, insisted his opponent’s government would not last.
“This evening I hand the keys to the prime minister’s office to Helle Thorning-Schmidt,” he said, before adding: “Dear Helle, look after the keys, because you’re only borrowing them.”
He was expected to submit his resignation to Queen Margrethe later Friday.
A total of 90 seats are needed for an absolute majority in the 179-seat parliament.
Four seats reserved for Denmark’s autonomous territories Greenland and the Faroe Islands had yet to be officially tallied and were not yet included in the score, though they were unlikely to reverse the results, according to observers.
At the 2007 elections, the territories handed three votes to the centre-left and one to the centre-right.
The centre-right defeat spells an end to the powerful influence wielded by the populist, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP).
For 10 years, the DPP has pressured the centre-right coalition to adopt some of Europe’s most draconian immigration and integration regulations, in exchange for its support on other issues in parliament.
After losing three seats, DPP leader Pia Kjaersgaard acknowledged to her supporters that “we’re putting ourselves in opposition,” but vowed her party would not let the centre-left rest. “We will be biting at their heels.”
While immigration once topped debate in Denmark, this election campaign primarily focused on how to stir the country out of the slump caused by the global financial crisis.
Thorning-Schmidt has vowed to shore up Denmark’s welfare state and stimulate the slumping economy with spending, in contrast to the austerity measures proposed by Rasmussen.
Danes came out in droves to vote Thursday, with total voter turnout ticking in at 87.7 percent, its highest level in decades.
Thorning-Schmidt’s Social Democratic Party can take little credit for the centre-left’s turnaround, as it on Thursday lost a seat compared to the 2007 results, when it suffered its worst election result since 1906, finishing at 44 seats.
Its traditional partner the Socialist People’s Party fared even worse, shedding seven seats to 16.
Instead, the centre-left victory can be attributed to the fact that Thorning-Schmidt managed the previously unthinkable task of drawing the far-left Red Greens and the centrist and market liberal Social Liberal Party into the same bloc.
The Red Greens more than doubled their 2007 result, landing 12 seats, while the Social Liberal Party added eight seats to their tally, to reach a total of 17.
While Thorning-Schmidt will negotiate to draw the Social Liberals into government, she is unlikely to invite the Red Greens, who have vowed to push the new government as far left as possible.