December 13, 2002

Unilingual Inuk becomes Greenland’s new premier

Referendum on independence likely by 2005


The highly popular Hans Enoksen, 46, is Greenland's new premier.

(PHOTO COURTESY OF SIKU NEWS)

Nunatsiaq News

After a fractious election campaign that left his Siumut party in a badly-divided state, Hans Enoksen, 46, a unilingual Greenlandic-only speaker, has emerged as Greenland’s new premier.

Enoksen will head a coalition between Siumut and the left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit party. The two partners have agreed to hold a referendum by 2005 on independence from Denmark.

They also want to renegotiate the 1951 agreement between Denmark and the United States that allows the U.S. to maintain a military base at Thule in northern Greenland. The U.S. government has never paid any compensation for its use of the Thule site, and for its use of three other bases that are now closed.

Enoksen’s Siumut party won only 28 per cent of the popular vote in the country’s Dec. 3 general election, a seven-per-cent drop from its showing in previous election held in 1999.

That gave them only 10 seats in Greenland’s 31-seat parliament, six short of a majority.


Aqqaluk Lynge and George Olsen outside the Nuuk offices of the Inuit Ataqatigiit party. Lynge, the former president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, won a seat in parliament on behalf of IA, a party of left-wing nationalists who favour more independence from Denmark.

(PHOTO COURTESY OF JUKKU NIELSEN)

But despite its poor showing, Siumut, which has ties with Europe’s mainstream social democratic parties, was still able to form a coalition with the left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit party.

Inuit Ataqatigiit finished with only eight seats, one more than the seven they took in 1999, but less than what was expected of them.

IA’s leader, Josef "Tuusi" Motzfeldt, will serve as deputy premier in the new government.

That leaves former Greenland premier Johnathan Motzfeldt, a distant relative of the IA leader, out in the cold. Jonathan Motzfeldt’s personal popularity slumped badly in the election campaign, while his rival, Enoksen, turned out to be Siumut’s most popular politician.

Many observers said the Dec. 3 general election in Greenland might bring sweeping political change to the home rule government that Nunavut’s circumpolar neighbours have run since 1980.

Although Greenlanders will see a different face at the head of their government, in other ways they’re looking at more of the same — a fragile coalition led by the badly-divided Siumut party, whose leaders were fighting each other on the front pages of Greenland’s newspapers throughout the campaign.

On the eve of the election, some observers said IA might take 30 per cent of the vote — enough to make them the top vote-getter.

"Two months before they called for an election I felt that IA would gain… at the final party leader debate it was obvious that IA would win," retired newspaper editor Jørgen Fleischer said on the Qanorooq television news program, as quoted by the circumpolar Siku News service.

But IA finished with 25 per cent, an increase of only 3 per cent from 1999.

One of IA’s eight seats is held by Aqqaluk Lynge, who until last summer was president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.

A coalition between Siumut and IA creates a majority of 18 seats, two more than the magic number of 16. And Siumut’s new leader, Hans Enoksen, favours more autonomy for Greenland.

"The new leader, Hans Enoksen, is pro-independence, so may co-operate with the Inuit Ataqatigiit, but scandals over government salaries have come between the two parties," a Greenland government official told BBC World’s radio service last week.

Enoksen is Siumut’s most popular politican right now. But his opposition to fish-plant closures favoured by the previous government has badly divided the Siumut party.

Another possible, but far less likely, coalition partner was the centre-right Atassut party, which finished with seven seats, one less than in 1999.

The one party Siumut is most likely to shun is the Democrats, a new formation recently created by Per Berthelsen, a popular singer who was first elected to parliament as a Siumut member.

Berthelsen’s party took 16 per cent of the vote, and five seats, but his departure from Siumut has enraged many Siumut loyalists and it’s unlikely that he and his party would have been invited to join a Siumut-led coalition.

The Democrats’ five seats aren’t enough to make them an attractive coalition partner anyway, because they don’t have enought seats help any of the larger parties go over the top.

Greenland’s new government will find some tough political issues sitting at the top of its to-do list.

They include U.S. plans to upgrade the Thule air base so that it can be integrated into its new missile defence system, and the upcoming referendum.

During the election campaign, former premier Jonathan Motzfeldt attended the recent NATO summit in Prague as part of the Danish delegation. During the summit, Denmark floated the idea of giving its approval to the U.S. missile defence scheme in exchange for a share of the technology.

But Greenlandic nationalists attacked Motzfeldt for cozying up to the Danes, saying he had no valid mandate to represent Greenland at NATO.

The U.S. has yet to make a formal request to Denmark for an expanded use for the Thule site.

Greenland’s population is just under 57,000. Like Nunavut, more than 80 per cent of its people are Inuit, but many high-ranking jobs in government are still held by Danes.

Denmark still provides about two-thirds of the money needed to run Greenland’s home rule government.

Other members of Greenland’s seven-member cabinet are: Michael Petersen, Siumut, minister of trade; Simon Olsen, Siumut, minister of fisheries and hunting; Ruth Heilmann, Siumut, minister of education; Johan Lund Olsen, Inuit Ataqatigiit, minister of infrastructure, environment and housing; Asii Narup Chemnitz, Inuit Ataqatigiit, minister of family and health.

With files from Siku News and Jukku Nielsen.