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The voters in Greenland have given an opposition party its very first chance to form a government after a campaign that sought to define the boundaries of development on the Arctic island.
The Inuit Ataqatigiit party won 37% of the vote against 29% for the ruling Social Democrat Siumut party, according to official results reported by Reuters. The vote totals should allow the Inuit Ataqatigiit to seize 12 seats in the 31-member unicameral legislature, known as the Inatsisartut, which means it will likely be necessary to form a coalition with the support of one of the smaller parties.
At the center of Tuesday’s election was the fate of a rare land and uranium mining project in the country’s south, which has pitted those who favor more aggressive development against others who want more security to protect the island’s fragile Arctic environment.
The Inuit Ataqatigiit, or “People’s Society”, had fought against the Kvanefjeld project, which was granted preliminary approval under Prime Minister Kim Kielsen’s Siumut party government.
Greenland, about three times the size of Texas, is the world’s largest non-continental island with a population of about 56,000. In 1979, it became autonomous within the Kingdom of Denmark, which maintains control over the island’s foreign, monetary and defense policy.
In recent years, its vast untapped mineral resources have attracted the attention of international companies in hopes of gaining access to the growing market for rare earths – a group of 17 similar metals often found in the same landfill. They are used as components in everything from smartphones to electric cars and weapons. These deposits have become more accessible in recent years due to ice melting caused by climate change.
Among other rare earth metals, the Kvanefjeld project aims to use deposits of neodymium, an element used to create permanent miniature magnets that have become vital for a number of high-tech industries. The Australian company that operates the mine also wants to extract uranium. The project’s largest investor is a Chinese company.
Following Tuesday’s election results, Inuit Ataqatigiit leader Mute Egede was asked by the TV station DR about Kvanefjeld’s fate.
“The people have spoken,” said Egede. “It does not happen.”
Like many Greenlanders, the Inuit Ataqatigiit is not against mining, but also has a strong environmental focus. Most of the island’s residents say they want a possible independence from Denmark. Some see the potential of exploiting Greenland’s rich ore deposits as the key to creating economic influence to do so alone.
“It’s not that Greenlanders do not want mining, but they do not want dirty mining,” Mikaa Mered, an associate professor of Arctic affairs at the HEC business school in Paris, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
“Greenlanders are sending a strong message that it is not worth sacrificing the environment for them to achieve independence and economic development,” he said.
In 2019, then-President Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland from Denmark and compare such a purchase with “a large real estate agreement.”
However, the idea was rejected both in Greenland and in the Danish capital Copenhagen.
The Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen emphatically said that “Greenland is not for sale.”