by Mikkel Schøler, CEO of Sikki.gl
On 6 April, Greenland held both its national and municipal elections. The result of the national parliamentary (Inatsisartut) vote was a decisive victory for what had been the main opposition party, Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA), who will now seek to form a government coalition– most likely with the Naleraq and Atassut parties, (although the former took a minor hit in the results). If such a coalition can be created, the three parties can form an eighteen-seat majority in the 31-seat parliament.
Despite internal infighting between the newly elected Siumut president, Erik Jensen, and the incumbent Siumut prime minister, Kim Kielsen, Siumut held its ground compared to the 2018 elections.
Another party, the Democrats, took an anticipated massive hit to its voter share, as the last election’s voter magnet, Niels Thomsen, has since left politics. Thomsen personally accounted for almost 9.5% of the total national vote in the 2018 elections. That turnover in the Democratic Party was too much to cover for the newcomers.
This is bad news for the Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld) uranium and rare earths mining project, as well as for the Greenlandic mining sector in general, as the perceived political and financial risk of investing in Greenland will rise if IA succeeds in stopping the Kuannersuit application process at the eleventh hour.
Hotel and tourism investors in Ilulissat will also be holding their breath. While the same could be said for the airport plans for the region near the southern town of Qaqortoq, IA stands to take control of the country’s southernmost municipality, Kommune Kujalleq. This may erode their initial opposition to the planned airport at Qaqortoq. The municipality struggles with high rates of unemployment, at nine percent, (the national average is 5.2%, according to figures from stat.gl) – so IA would need to compensate for the loss of expected jobs from Kuannersuit if that mine project, overseen by an Australian firm with a Chinese partner, is cancelled.
The Greenlandic election was called for 6 April, as an indirect result of the change in Siumut presidency. Erik Jensen, former minister in the coalition led by Kim Kielsen, was elected party president, with 39 to 32 votes.
After being elected, Jensen held talks with the coalition partners from the Democrats and Nunatta Qittornai (NQ) that constituted a majority of 17 of the 31 seats in the Greenlandic parliament, Inatsisartut. The purpose was to solidify a majority behind Jensen as the new Greenlandic Prime Minister. Simultaneously Jensen negotiated with the opposition with the purpose of forming a new broad government coalition.
The opposition consisting of IA, Naleraq and Atassut shunned Jensen and in the process, the coalition partners lost faith in Siumut under Jensen’s leadership. The Democrats have been direct in their criticism of Jensen and Jensen’s support base. Referring to the people who make up Jensen’s supporters in the Siumut leadership, the party president of the Democrats, Jens-Frederik Nielsen, has made the harsh statement that the cadre of Jensen supporters serve themselves rather than the party or the country, and gave that as the reason why the party lost faith in Siumut under Jensen’s leadership.
The Inatsisartut election was held simultaneously with the municipal election. The municipal election has not received as much attention, but the results are interesting nonetheless.
In the northernmost Avannaata Kommunia region, Siumut won the election with 46.2% of the vote with a wide margin to IA’s 16.9% in second place. However, the incumbent Siumut mayor, Palle Jerimiassen, could see newcomer, Minik Høegh-Dam receive 406 votes to his own 338. This could lead to Høegh-Dam becoming mayor of Avannaata.
In Kommune Qeqertalik, the incumbent Inuit Ataqatigiit mayor, Ane Hansen, will probably remain mayor after IA received 53.3% of the vote. She saw her personal vote tally increased, but she was still bested by Peter Olsen, another IA candidate. Olsen could very well be appointed to a new IA-led government, leaving the municipal reins to Hansen for another term. Though they came in second, Siumut lacked a strong unifying candidate in Qeqertalik, and saw their total number of votes reduced by one-third, compared to 2017.
In Qeqqata Kommunia, incumbent mayor Malik Berthelsen almost doubled his personal votes to 976, though Siumut lost 11.9 points compared to the 2017 municipal elections, the party still ended up as the clear front runner with 39.8% of the vote. Depending on the national result this could lead to a change in leadership as well, if the three remaining parties – Atassut, Naleraq and IA – form an alliance against Siumut, though Berthelsen should be the favorite to emerge as mayor again.
In Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq, the incumbent mayor Asii Chemnitz Narup withdrew from her position in 2019 after the Democrats pulled support for her leadership in the municipality following a string of social neglect cases in Eastern Greenland, where the municipal administration was viewed as having failed in its responsibilities. She ran for the Inatsisartut election and was elected third with 983 votes, trailing IA party president and likely new Greenlandic prime minister, Muté Borup Egede (3.380 votes) and IA vice president Aqqaluaq B. Egede (1.287 votes).
In her place, IA appointed Charlotte Ludvigsen as new mayor. Ludvigsen had received just 77 personal votes in the last municipal election. In this election she received a massive 1.512 votes– more than one-third of IA’s total votes in Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq. This means Ludvigsen will remain mayor of Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq.
In Kommune Kujalleq, Siumut and the incumbent mayor, Kiista P. Isaksen, took a hit. The party lost 15.7 points compared to 2017 and Isaksen saw her personal votes more than halved. Isaksen will probably point to Siumut’s president, Erik Jensen, wavering on the Kuannersuit mining project issue boosting environmental concerns, as the reason IA succeeded in making the issue central to the campaign. Still, the result is massive win for IA, and Stine Egede looks to be the new mayor of Kommune Kujalleq.
The election campaign has been defined mostly by IA and Siumut with social challenges, the Kuannersuit Mining Project and airport construction plans as central themes. The Greenlandic fisheries sector has played a surprisingly small role in this election, but that can be due to the fact that the country’s fisheries commission still working on its final report.
During the election, former Siumut president Kim Kielsen made it clear that he did not see the question of party presidency as settled. Even though Kielsen remained quiet, letting Jensen work, before the election was called, Kielsen has fought to make a comeback as president since then. Stating that Siumut’s voters now had the chance to make their opinion count through personal votes, Kielsen had openly challenged Jensen.
Kielsen came in first with 1,841 votes, while Jensen could only muster 1,186 votes. A massive difference that could very well see Kielsen return as party president.
Also noteworthy is the results for two newcomers. Aslak Wilhelm Jensen (814 votes) and Qarsoq Høegh-Dam (796 votes) thundered into parliament, while known quantities like Vivian Motzfeldt (237) and Anders Olsen (199) come in a distant 5th and 6th.
IA has presented a number of costly proposals aimed at increasing the standard of living in Greenland. However, IA has very clearly stated that they want to stop the Kuannersuit project on its principal opposition to uranium mining.
In addition, IA wants to pause airport construction outside of Nuuk for a undefined period of time, due to increased construction costs, (though the costs are still well within operating margins).
Both of these positions will reduce expected revenue streams for Greenland in at least the short to medium term.
Thus, IA will be hard pressed to find new sources of revenue, if they wish to deliver on the promises made during the election campaign.
IA has won the election and will seek to form a coalition. Now Greenland, international investors and great powers alike will be waiting to see exactly what IA hopes to accomplish through that coalition and what course the party sets for the future of Greenland.