Monday May 29, 2017

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Greenland politics

Forward no more

Aleqa Hammond is meeting the latest scandal involving her government the only way she knows how. But with withering public support, Greenland’s premier may find this challenge too great to push aside
If you are going through hell, don’t call an election (Photo: Leiff Josefsen)

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As Aleqa Hammond began her press conference in Nuuk on Saturday evening to address a report finding that she had used public money to cover a number of personal expenses, many were hoping that the first words out of her mouth would be that the consequence would be an early election. Or at least her resignation as Greenland’s premier.

Her refusal to connect the reprimand with her political future may have disappointed her opponents, but it could hardly have been a surprise, coming from a political leader who has been beset by political scandal during her first 19 months in office, yet each time has managed to bulldoze her way though.

Hammond was forced to hold the press conference after it emerged that since taking office, she has used 106,000 kroner ($20,000) in public funds for personal expenses, including paying the airfare for her family to travel to the US. The transgression, she explained, was an error on behalf of the travel agency, which she had asked to book her tickets separate from those of accompanying family members. Other sundry expenses, such as items from a hotel minibar, had also gone on the official tab.

SEE RELATED: Premier problems

Hammond said she would accept whatever consequences the situation would have for her.

The money, she made clear, was repaid on September 8. The same, she was quick to point out, cannot be said of her predecessor in the premier’s office. Kuupik Kliest, the former head of IA, the largest opposition party, used 25,000 kroner in public funds to cover similar travel expenses in 2013. Money that Kleist himself admits has yet to be repaid.

This is not the first time that Hammond has faced calls to hold an early election. Siumut, Hammond’s party and whose name means ‘Forward’, holds a single-seat advantage in Inatsisartut, the national legislature. In August the opposition, hoping that it could capitalise on internal dispute within Siumut, most recently over a a proposed 2015 budget that will be in the red, and perhaps aware that the swing seat was held by a former premier who had defected from Siumut, to start his own party, had sought to force her into acting.

Hammond did not take the bait. The people, she said, had given her party a mandate and she intended to serve out her term, regardless of how the political winds of the moment were blowing.

SEE RELATED: A Greenlandic state or an independent Greenland

But this time, the situation is different. After surviving the previous scandals – which involved everything from allegations of nepotism and cronyism to the quitting of a key advisor after differences of opinion emerged just weeks into her term – she faces the wrath of not just the opposition, but also the public and even fellow Siumut members, who appear to be turning their backs on her.

In the broadest measure of dissatisfaction, an unscientific on-line poll taken by Sermitsiaq, this website’s sister publication, found that 86% wanted her to dissolve the government and hold a new general election.

The poll was taken after IA, the largest opposition party, said on Saturday that such a move would be an appropriate response to the matter.

“This must mean the time has come to ask voters whether we can live with the current government. It is time for an election,” Sara Olsvig, the IA leader, said in a statement.

SEE RELATED: A time to campaign

Neither are likely to have made much of an impact on Hammond. More likely to enter into her decision not to hold an early election – if it were ever on the cards – would have been a Sermitsiaq/HS Analyse poll (this one scientific) that found Siumut would lose an election if it were held today. Those results give IA, in coalition with Demokraterne, 16 seats in the 31-member Inatsisartut.

These figures – combined no doubt with a healthy dose of umbrage over the most recent scandal – may have also entered into the thinking of a number of high-ranking Siumut members who came down hard on their boss over the weekend.

Some, including Doris Jakobsen, one of Greenland’s two representatives in the Danish legislature, was critical of the Hammond’s actions, but suggested taking a wait-and-see approach.

“A law is a law, but we need to wait until we see the results of the investigation,” Jakobsen wrote on Facebook. “Once we have that we can decide what to do,”

SEE RELATED: Aleqa Hammond likely to lose Greenlandic premiership by spring

Others, including Kristian Jeremiassen, a Siumut MP and Inatsisartut’s chief auditor, was more blunt.

“We can’t just let this happen without reacting,” he said in advance of Saturday’s press conference. “It is unfortunate and I fully expect that the premier will assume full responsibility, and that it has consequences for her. Something has to happen, and we need to make sure that it never happens again.”

Hammond, considering the calls for step down prior to addressing the public on Saturday, may have been thinking that those urging her to call an election did not know who they were dealing with. Today, she may very well be thinking that if the public doesn’t get her, then her own party will.