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Shock, shame and Siumut

Greenland’s political scene has been thrown into tumult as dissatisfaction with the country’s premier boils over
Hammond (right) is distanced herself from nepotism claim, but fellow party members also see a gulf opening between them and the premier (Photo: Lieff Josefsen)

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Even those accustomed to the turbulence of Greenlandic politics have had hard time keeping up over the past few days.

With the resignation of a former party leader, a cabinet member choosing to quit rather than be fired and allegations of nepotism against the premier, the country’s political scene has been thrown into turmoil.

Perhaps the most dramatic moment in recent days has been the resignation of Hans Enoksen, Greenland’s premier from 2002-2009, from Siumut, the party he led between 2001 and 2009.

He resigned on Friday in what outwardly was described as a “surprise” move, but in downplaying the impact the resignation would have, Aleqa Hammond, the current Siumut leader and the country’s premier, also gave an indication that his relationship to the new generation had been strained.

Hammond noted that the political veteran had had a major impact on Greenland, but added that she had sensed a change in his party involvement after the party regained power in March.

“He didn’t want to sit on any committees,” she said. “His influence has been limited.”

But as Hammond’s comments indicate, the move was neither the opening act in the political drama surrounding her leadership. Nor is it likely to be the last.

Divide and lead
Enoksen’s resignation on Friday came at the same time as his party’s leader was fending off allegations of nepotism after the announcement that her domestic partner, Tom Ostermann, was to be hired as special advisor to the country’s fishing minister, Karl Lyberth.

Hammond has denied any involvement in the hiring, and Lyberth, who is also Siumut’s second in command, later found himself resigning rather than face being fired after it emerged that he had failed to get party approval before hiring Ostermann.

Regardless of whether the move was a smokescreen to allow Hammond to distance herself from an emerging scandal, the ado caused by the two resignations has left its mark.

“This is something of a shock,” Lyberth said upon finding out about Enoksen’s resignation.

Kuupik Kliest, who defeated Enoksen in the 2009 general election, only to be beaten himself by Hammond last year, used the resignation of a major figure in Greenland’s political history to attack Hammond for what he labelled as “nine months of scandal”.

“One can only ask whether there is something wrong with the way the party is ruling,” he said.

Re-opening fresh wounds
The turmoil comes after a 2013 that saw Hammond steer her party to a commanding electoral victory, yet also preside over a bitterly divisive vote in parliament to repeal the country’s ban on uranium mining. The measure passed by a single vote, but some within Siumut were dissatisfied with a lack of public involvement in the debate leading up to the vote. That led to Enoksen casting a ballot against the bill – although he waited until he was certain the measure would pass before doing so, stating later that he would rather see it pass against his will than be responsible for his party losing a vote.

Even with his party loyalty, Enoksen received the praise from opposition lawmakers for voting his conscience. After his resignation, he stated that he now considers himself a part of the opposition and that he was considering forming his own party.

Should he do so, it is likely he will be able to find plenty of members among disaffected Siumut members.

Hammond, during her time in office, has proved something of divisive leader, whether it was forcing through the uranium vote, changing the way mining firms are to be charged for the right to do business in Greenland or her controversial statements about not feeling a personal affiliation with Denmark.

SEE RELATED: Greenland’s government headed in new direction

For that reason, Enoksen, though the most prominent, was hardly the first political figure to turn their back on Hammond.

Upon resigning, he said he “wasn't alone” and that he was aware of others in the party who were willing to follow him.

One of those figures might be Julie Rademacher, who quit as Hammond’s special advisor in June. She has remained tight-lipped about why, stating only that the two had “grown apart” after the election.

The uncertainty about Hammond’s role in the hiring of Ostermann, however, has given something of an indication of the depths of their falling out.

“I am ashamed to have helped someone to power who so obviously can’t handle it,” Rademacher wrote on her Facebook profile. “I am worried that Siumut won’t be able to save itself when the person who is responsible faces no consequences. I don’t get the impression that many Siumut members have a sense of pride about the decisions that are being made or the party’s reputation.”

Hammond, for her part, has acted swiftly to contain the damage. Sitting beside Lyberth as he resigned, she admitted that hiring her domestic partner might have given the wrong impression.

“In hindsight, I can see that it was a mistake and that it has caused a lot of turmoil,” she said.

Sara Olsvig, an opposition member of the Danish and Greenlandic legislatures, wrote on Twitter that she was less than convinced.

Greenland politics, it would seem, isn't so foreign after all.