29 March 2010

How to select a Prime Minister

From a discussion of parliamentarianism in Denmark, the story of King Christian IX's creation of the country's first liberal government in 1901, when the Venstre (Liberal) party was victorious:

Just how difficult the king and the conservative clique which surrounded him found it to accept the new state of things was immediately evidenced by the formation of the first liberal government itself. It would have been an obvious move to ask I.C. Christensen, the head of Venstre to form a government and let him take up the position of Prime Minister. Yet still, neither the king or his advisors could bring themselves to entrust such a position of responsibility to a simple schoolteacher, who, to compound the problem, spoke a strong west Jutland dialect. So the uncrowned king of Venstre had to settle in the first instance for a position as the Minister for Church Affairs and Education.

The king appointed a politically inexperienced lawyer and member of the board of the East Asiatic Company as Prime Minister, Professor J.H. Deuntzer (1845-1918), who as well as being one of the inner circle of the educated citizens of the capital was a regular guest in royal circles. It is reported that it was at such an occasion just before the change of political system that the king had the following exchange with Deuntzer: 'You are a left-winger, aren't you, Professor?' to which the somewhat nervous response was: 'To some extent, Your Majesty'. The hesitant response convinced the king that he had found the right man to head up the government of commoners he was on the point of forming.

Christensen had to wait until 1905 until the king relented and appointed him Prime Minister.

- Source: Knud J.V. Jespersen, A History of Denmark, 2004

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