Monday May 29, 2017

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Greenland election

Eyes on the possibilities

Kim Kielsen wants to become Greenland’s next premier, but the ultimate prize is a country that can stand on its own two feet
A fish in every net? Kielsen can (Photo: Leiff Josefsen)

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This is the first of two articles profiling Greenland’s two leading candidates to become premier after the November 28 general election. In the second interview, we speak with IA leader Sara Olsvig.

One thing is what candidates say during an election. Another is what they do afterwards. In the run-up to Greenland’s general election on Friday, promises of bi-partisanship may have faded somewhat, but Kim Kielsen, the leader of Siumut, currently the country’s largest party, doesn’t feel that candidates have turned their back on co-operation.

“It’s true that we’re attacking each other a little more. But that’s not the same as saying we are so deeply divided that we can’t work together. At least that’s not the way I see it. It’s normal that parties defend their points of view during a campaign, and Siumut is no exception.”

Despite being the dominant party in Greenlandic politics since the establishment of a national assembly in 1979, Siumut is no stranger to coalitions. Most recently, it partnered with Atassut, up until October 1, when Aleqa Hammond, the premier at the time and Kielsen’s predecessor as party leader, stepped down over accusations of mis-use of public funding. In the past Siumut has also linked forces with IA, its primary opponent in the current election.

SEE RELATED: May the best coalition win

Initially, some expressed hope that Greenland, left deeply divided after 18 months under Hammond’s rule and vastly in need of widespread reforms, would see a coalition made up of Siumut and IA. More recently, the election has turned into more of an either-or contest.

Nevertheless, Kielsen says his party is not ruling any options until it speaks with other parties. “Our line has always been that we’re open to looking at all the possibilities, and we’re sticking with that.”

The two most recent polls, taken at the end of last week, indicate that even though IA is likely to become the largest party Siumut still could wind up taking the premiership by joining with the right coalition partners. If that happens, Kielsen won’t rule out working with parties that wind up outside a formal coalition.

“The only parties we can’t work with are the ones where it seems like we’re spending more time finding areas where we disagree than where we agree. We’d rather focus on discussing topics we agree on.”

SEE RELATED: Polar-bearish on the future

While topics such as construction of a new airport in Qaqortoq, in southern Greenland, and uranium mining have been hotly debated during the campaign, Kielsen points out there have been a long list of other issues people want addressed.

“There area a lot of local concerns, but in general most people want to talk about things like housing, social services, development and transport,” Kielsen says.

Should Siumut wind up being able to form a majority after the election, it will be Kielsen and his party that sets the priorities for the new government. And even though he says no decisions can be made without the input of possible coalition partners, the party has already made it clear that topics like independence from Denmark and development of a mining industry will need to be placed on the back burner.

“We need to accept that building up a mining industry to the point where it has a significant, long-term benefit for our economy takes a long time,” Kielsen wrote in an op-ed in Sermitsiaq, the country’s largest newspaper and which is published by this website’s owner.

SEE RELATED: An elemental debate

Like most other candidates, Kielsen argues that Greenland must find the proper economic recipe before it can consider further autonomy from Copenhagen. Natural resources have long been seen as the engine of that development, and it was a particular focus of the previous government.

“No one should doubt that Greenland is a country under construction. Self-rule has been our next tentative step towards increased independence, but right now Greenland is facing some enormous challenges.”

But, while developing a mining industry remains a key element of Siumut’s economic plan, the party also wants to put just as much emphasis on areas like tourism, fishing and general business development.

Fishing, according to Kielsen, will remain Greenland’s most important economic activity in the years to come. In the past, Kielsen has expressed concern that Greenland was getting too little out of its fish exports, which make up 90% of its national income. As premier, he will push for the industry to place as much processing in Greenland as possible.

“There will by types of processing that we can’t take care of, and which will require it to be exported abroad. In those cases, though, we should consider whether we should put a fee on unprocessed fish.”

Like in politics, in fishing, it is not what you catch, but what you do with it afterwards that counts.

Additional reporting by Hector Martin.