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Arctic political analysis provided by the Polarisk Group
Greenland election

Editor’s Briefing | The fall and rise of Siumut

Two months of campaigning comes to an end tomorrow as Greenlanders head to the polls in what is shaping up to be a nail-biter of an election
Kielsen’s integrity has been mesmerising (Photo: Lieff Josefsen)

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The 2014 general election (#Qinersineq14) marks a turning point in Greenland’s political history. Ever since the colonial era, Greenlandic politics have almost always been polluted by mis-management, nepotism or corruption. Today, the two main party leaders, Sara Olsvig (IA) and Kim Kielsen (Siumut), are people with demonstrated integrity who know that politicians can no longer get away with such behavior in the voters’ eyes. For the first time in Greenlandic politics we can confidently expect that these types of politically costly scandals will not happen on their watch.

As considered by Polarisk (as early as the day after the fall of Aleqa Hammond’s government) and confirmed by the latest HS Analyse/AG* poll (see below), Siumut is pulling ahead of IA. This has come as a surprise to the vast majority of Danish consultants, academics, journalists and experts, who have extensively written during the campaign that a win on November 28 was a done deal for IA and Sara Olsvig.

Siumut’s turnaround can be explained by a conjunction of factors.

SEE RELATED: The election will be globalised

First of all, IA’s campaign has been quite weak. It looked very professional, very modern and very urban (perhaps too urban, as it turns out). Despite Olsvig’s good performances during TV debates and innovative campaigning ideas, IA’s campaign never gained traction. Following Hammond’s fall over alleged mis-use of public funds, Olsvig has mainly campaigned on values. However, Greenland is not Denmark, and Olsvig’s campaign suffered from weak promises on the economy, especially for small towns and settlements. That is why IA lost some of its urban support to Demokraatit (which more or less share the same values as IA, but which had a much more detailed and ambitious economic programme) and some of its support outside urban areas to Siumut and Partii Naleraq.

Secondly, Olsvig’s stance against uranium has played against her. Greenland hosts a quarter of the world’s rare earths, but rare-earth deposits are often in the same places as uranium deposits. And yet, regardless of the economic and political benefits of mining those rare earths, Olsvig was the strongest political opponent to the lifting of the ban on uranium exploitation in 2013, arguing that uranium mining would be too damaging for the environment, among other reasons.

Very early this 2014 campaign, Olsvig tried to circumvent her pro-uranium opponents by promising that “an IA-led government would organise a nationwide referendum on uranium mining”. Olsvig herself said she did not want to “impose [her] views”. A clever move ... which actually backfired. Ten days ago, Olsvig gave a somewhat clumsy interview to a major Danish daily, which got many voters to believe that if Olsvig, as the new premier, organised the referendum on uranium, and that the results would be in favor of permitting mining, she might not respect the people’s choice and instead use a parliamentary majority to reinstate the old zero-tolerance policy.

SEE RELATED: Accentuate the negative, please

Finally, Olsvig’s choice to campaign mainly on values could have been a good one if Siumut hadn't chosen former policeman Kim Kielsen as party leader. Kielsen, 47, is a well-respected figure in Greenlandic politics. He is seen as someone who is trustworthy and has high integrity. Siumut made the right choice by electing him as new party-leader five weeks ago. Since then, he has conducted a respectable campaign, during which he has appeared humble, factual and empathetic. He has managed to earn a lot of support among would-be Partii Naleraq voters and with voters outside urban areas.

Kielsen is not someone to expect scandals from, nor is he someone expected to deliver wishful thoughts on Greenland’s independence unless he has hard facts to back them. After the political and regulatory instability of the past year, foreign investors are looking for a Greenlandic partner who has no skeletons hanging in his closet, who has enough strength to expel those amongst his government or party who may engage in unlawful activities and who is looking forward to bring political and regulatory stability to attract foreign direct investment.

In the past seven weeks, Kielsen has put his personal integrity at the center of Siumut’s campaign, saying things like: “I pledge that whatever mismanagement that happened before will not happen on my watch.” Even when new revelations about other former ministers broke out, most Siumut voters trusted Kielsen’s pledge. Also, Kielsen added strong economic promises to his campaigning set quite early on. Those economic promises have generated heated debates, especially one on whether the government should let public companies go private, or on the building of a new international airport in Qaqortoq. But these debates have sealed the “misuse of funds” sequence, to the benefit of Siumut.

SEE RELATED: May the best coalition win

Policy-wise, no major change would be expected if Siumut were to remain in power after November 28. A Siumut-led governing coalition with Kielsen as premier would be focused on creating jobs and re-booting the economy rather than talking about independence every other week and getting tough on investors. That said, a Siumut-Atassut-Partii Naleraq coalition would nonetheless keep some kind of a ‘decolonisation’ flavour to its discourse. Therefore, mining is not dead! True North Gems started to build its Aappaluttoq ruby and pink sapphire mine in late September and is not planning to stop. Likewise, Australia’s Ironbark is planning to have its zinc and lead mines in northern Greenland up and running by 2017. If the Isua project is definitely in great trouble, projects like Kvanefjeld and Tanbreez could well get to their construction phase within Kielsen’s mandate.

With regards to values, as previously mentioned, we could expect total transparency from Kielsen. He knows that if he is elected premier, it will be mainly on this promise. In concrete terms, this could result in a Siumut-led coalition passing an ‘open government’ bill as soon as in 2015. Note that the same would happen with an IA-led government with Olsvig at the helm.

On Aleqa Hammond’s personal political fate, it is worth noting that she is not dead politically. She has been prevented from standing for re-election but still has a lot of support. Although it is unlikely that she will formally participate in a new Siumut-led government, she has not lost hope of getting back in the game. And eventually, she will.

Priorities for the new government
1. The absolute number-one priority is to build an economically sound 2015 budget after the deficit for 2014 will now surpass 275 million kroner ($46 million)

2.  Keep investing in country-branding to attract foreign tourists and investors so as to kickstart high-return revenue-generating projects

3. Increase Greenland’s fish-processing capacity so as to generate new jobs and fiscal revenues

4. Invest in education at all levels, including continuing education for adults

5. Invest in infrastructure. On this point Polarisk strongly suggests forgetting about the Qaqortoq airport project, and instead recommends improving the Narsarsuaq international airport, which should include construction of a two-way road to Qaqortoq

Latest poll and prognosis
After trailing IA in the polls since before the campaign began on October 1, Siumut, in the latest poll, released yesterday, now has a single-seat advantage over IA. Regardless of which party earns most votes, assembling a 16-seat majority will still require forming a coalition, that almost certainly will include Partii Naleraq.

Atassut – 2 seats
Demokraatit – 3 seats
IA – 11 seats
Partii Inuit – 0
Partii Naleraq – 3 seats
Siumut – 12 seats

Source: HS Analyse, carried out on November 20-21 and published in the September 26 issue of AG

Polarisk Analytics’ projection
Siumut – 12-13 seats
IA – 11 seats
Demokraatit – 3 seats
Partii Naleraq – 2-3 seats
Atassut – 2 seats
Partii Inuit – 0

Possible coalitions and seat tallies
Siumut + Atassut (+ Partii Naleraq): 14-15 (+ 2-3)
IA + Demokraatit (+ Partii Naleraq): 14 (+ 2-3)

The author is the managing partner of the Polarisk Group. An extended version of this analysis is available on the company’s website.

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