Opposition wins Greenland vote on calls for mining tax

March 13, 2013
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, COPENHAGEN, Mar 13 – Greenland is set to have its first woman prime minister after the social democratic Siumut party won general elections on a vow to tax foreign mining companies, final results showed Wednesday.

Aleqa Hammond’s party garnered 42.8 percent of the vote compared to 26.5 percent at the last election four years ago. Leftwing incumbent Kuupik Kleist’s Inuit Ataqatigiit took 34.4 percent compared to 43.7 percent at the last election.

Hammond, whose party favours taxing foreign companies tapping the island’s vast mineral wealth, said it was clear voters were dissatisfied with the current leadership.

“Too much secrecy surrounding mining projects and problems in the fishery sector, as well as a lack of construction outside Nuuk, determined the outcome,” she told the online edition of weekly newspaper Sermitsiaq.

“We have taken difficult decisions in fisheries, raised rents to be able to afford the necessary renovations, and high unemployment has probably also played a role,” Kleist said of the defeat.

Official turnout figures for the 40,000 electorate on the world’s largest island were not immediately available.

Hammond only has to choose one other smaller party for a majority coalition. Negotiations for a new government are expected to take several days.

“I will now be talking to my board before deciding how to move forward,” the 47-year-old party leader told reporters after her victory became official.

Siumut, which fought its election campaign mainly on changing royalty conditions for foreign mining companies wanting to extract rare earth and other raw materials from the potentially rich Greenland underground, is also looking for independence from Denmark for the autonomous territory.

Denmark currently provides 3.2 billion kroner (429 million euros, $559 million) per year in subsidies to Greenland under an autonomy agreement that gives the country full control of its natural resources, while Denmark maintains control of foreign policy and defence.

In particular, the Siumut party is looking to introduce immediate royalty payments for mining companies, rather than the Inuit Ataqatigiit coalition’s plans to allow companies to retrieve a large part of their initial investments before having to pay royalties.

Although no mining companies have yet officially sought licences for new mining ventures, recent months have seen discussions with a Chinese-owned company for a mining operation that would bring some 2,000 Chinese miners to the territory.

Under the new “Large-Scale Law” passed in the Greenland legislature, companies investing more than five billion kroner in operations in Greenland would be given special working condition privileges, an issue that has not only divided Greenland politics, but also caused discord with Denmark.

Apart from Hammond’s victory, Tuesday’s election also saw a new party sweep into Greenland’s 31-seat Inatsisartut legislature.

The centre-left Partii Inuit party, which wants to curb use of the Danish language in Greenland, took 6.4 percent of the vote in its first election and could be a target for Hammond in the coalition-forming process.

While Kleist’s Inuit Ataqatigiit party saw its following drop almost 10 percentage points, the main losers in the election were the former coalition parties – Kattusseqatigiit Partiiat and the Democrats.

Kattusseqatigiit Partiiat failed to cross the two percent electoral barrier and the Democrat Party dropped 6.5 percentage points to land at 6.2 percent.

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