“Northern lights” coalition a return to normal for Greenland politics

Three traditional parties exclude new Democrats party in latest government



In the wake of national elections held on Nov. 15, the leaders of Greenland’s four major political parties were quick to affirm that “the voters have spoken.” Less clear is what exactly it was that the voters said.

Coalition governments are the norm in Greenland, as in many Nordic countries, but the outcome for this particular election was unknown.

Polls before the election indicated that the centre-right Democrats and the nationalist Inuit Atagatigiit were going to do very well, and that the strongest party, Siumut, and the right-wing Atassut were going to lose seats – but 25% of voters remained undecided until voting day.

Siumut actually received 700 more votes than it received in 2002, ending up with 30.7% of votes cast – and held onto their ten seats in the Landsting, or “parliament.”

Per Berthelsen’s Democrats picked up 2,000 additional votes and became the second largest party with 22.8% of the vote and seven seats – a gain of two. They received more votes in Nuuk than any other party, and came second in the larger towns.

Finn Karlsen’s Atassut party’s vote didn’t fall as sharply as predicted – they hung on to 19.1% of the vote and six seats, and remain the most popular centre-right party in the smaller communities.

The big loser in this election was IA, which saw its vote decline by 800 votes to 22.6% – causing it to lose one of the eight Landsting seats it had held previously.

It was outside the capital where IA’s vote declined the most, leading observers to comment that voters punished the formerly left-wing party for promoting economic policies that reduced living standards in the smaller communities.

Since no two parties could team up and have a majority of seats in the Landsting, it was clear that this time Greenland would end up with a coalition of three parties.

Negotiations between possible coalition partners began as soon as the results were announced on election night.

But which three?

After the 2002 election, Siumut formed a coalition government with Atassut, but it soon collapsed – and was replaced by a coalition between Siumut and IA.

Siumut was weakened by a bitter internal leadership struggle and shaken by embarrassing financial scandals, and embattled Premier Hans Enoksen didn’t get along with his coalition partner, IA leader Josef ‘Tuusi’ Motzfeldt. The rocky political marriage between Siumut and IA eventually collapsed.

This time around, Berthelsen spoke of a possible “rainbow coalition” that would exclude Siumut.

IA countered with a “Northern Lights coalition” that would exclude the Democrats.

It took longer than usual to hammer out a coalition agreement, but it was eventually agreed that the three historic parties would stand together against the new party. Siumut took four Cabinet seats, IA two and Atassut two.

Controversial Siumut leader Hans Enoksen will continue as Premier, and IA Leader Motzfeldt will continue as Finance Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Three members of the new Cabinet are women: IA’s Asii Chemnitz Narup remains Minister of Health, Siumut named 27-year-old Doris Jakobsen the new Minister of Education, Culture and Research, and Aleqa Hammond – who lived in Iqaluit for a period in the early 1990s – was named Minister of Social Services.

Coalition agreements are about political priorities as well as Cabinet seats.

In recent years Greenlandic politics has been dominated by debate about “independence,” both economic and political, but the issue that dominated the election campaign was support for families, and especially children, in need.

Should the Home Rule government send out “child allowance” cheques to all families with children, or just to low-income families? Should the government provide free lunches in schools? What about courses in effective parenting?

Along with all the other issues that will be on the Cabinet agenda, it will be interesting to see how the coalition decides to address the island’s mounting social problems.

Will this new coalition government last?

One reason why it might is that it’s the Democrats who have the political momentum, and none of the three parties in the coalition could expect to gain seats if another election were held soon. But the longer that Berthelsen is kept out of Cabinet, the longer he can avoid having to make difficult decisions… and take political responsibility for them.

United in their dislike of Per Berthelsen and his Democrats, the “Northern Lights coalition” of Greenland’s established social democratic, centre-right and formerly left-wing parties will now have to try and work effectively together.

Thirteen of Greenland’s 31 legislators are women. There is one ethnic Dane, and one Greenlander who doesn’t speak Greenlandic. Seventeen of the 31 live in the capital, seven of whom also sit on Nuuk’s municipal council. Both of Greenland’s members of the Danish parliament were also elected to sit concurrently in the Landsting.

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