Kim Kielsen, the charismatic head of Greenland’s government, has experienced and survived many turbulent times since taking office in 2014. Courted by the great powers, Greenland, under his aegis, appeared more and more confident and forward-looking on the world stage. But at home, he had faced repeated criticism and mistrust. Even within his own party Siumut, of which he has also held the chairmanship since 2014, he has been repeatedly criticized and members even had called for his resignation. Now he has been voted out of office as chair in an internal party election, but still stands as head of government, a political dilemma in Greenland.
The long-announced vote in Nuuk last Sunday left no doubt: the base of the ruling Party Siumut was no longer satisfied with its chairman. In the election for the leadership of the party, Kim Kielsen and his trustees received a slap in the face and the party by 39 votes to 32 preferred his rival Erik Jensen as new chair. The board was also reappointed at the election and now consists of trustees of the new party leader, including the Parliamentary chair Vivian Motzfeldt.
The removal of Kielsen as party chair does not come as a complete surprise. Within the party, the mood had been seething since last year and disputes had arisen. In particular, questions about fishing and hunting quotas that had been enacted by the government, had provided internal fuel for disputes. The fact that Prime Minister Kielsen often did not involve the mayors and local party representatives in the decisions also caused the frustrations to rise. A dispute in the government and a call for resignation, which had been demanded, among other things, by ministers from within his own ranks, finally led to a break with Erik Jensen, the then Minister of Mining Resources and Labour. He withdrew from the government and announced that he would challenge Kielsen at the next party congress. He received support from the chair of the parliament, Vivan Motzfeldt. At last Sunday’s election, Motzfeldt was elected as party vice-chair.
But the question that arises after this landmark election is: what’s next for national politics? Traditionally, the party leader of the party’s most powerful governing party has also been the prime minister and head of government. The position officially is confirmed by Parliament and the Greenland Constitution does not prohibit the appointment of two different persons to the two positions. But Kim Kielsen has not yet announced a decision on how to proceed. Erik Jensen, the new party leader, had told to media after the election that he would not automatically seek the position of head of government, but would first seek the discussion within the party. Election loser Kim Kielsen has mentioned similar words to Sermitisiaq when asked if he will resign. The outcome of the election must also be included in the talks. The relatively close outcome of the election shows that the party has been divided, at least on the question of the chairmanship. However, both Kielsen and Jensen want to avoid a further split of the party on factual issues. After all, it is also a question of preserving the power within the government. Siumut can only govern in coalition with the Democrats and the separatist Nunatta Qitornai, and at the last election the party had to cope with a loss of about 5,000 voters, a huge number in a country with only 56,000 inhabitants.
Should Kielsen actually submit his resignation and hand it over to Erik Jensen, the new head of government will hardly tear the country’s politics around. After his election, Erik Jensen told the newspaper Sermitsiaq that he wanted to strengthen the local party factions and thus bring back the lost voters. In foreign policy, he wants to continue to push Greenland’s independence efforts and, first of all, to pick up veterinary checks, immigration and shipping from Denmark and also to take its own foreign policy path, as he mentioned to High North News. Economically, he also does not shy away from bringing China into the Greenland boat in addition to the USA. Here he pursues a similar strategy to Kielsen, who once said: “We are open for business, but not for sale.” But to achieve this, Jensen must first smooth the waves in his own pond.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal