Voters in Greenland have rejected a government that backed a controversial rare earths mining project, handing victory to an opposition left-green party for only the second time since the island gained home rule from Denmark in 1979.
Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) won 36.6 per cent of the vote in a result likely to be closely watched by the US and China amid a geopolitical fight over the future of the Arctic.
The snap elections were sparked by political division over the Kvanefjeld mining project in the south of the world’s largest island where there are large deposits of rare earths – used in smartphones, wind turbines and fighter jets - but also radioactive uranium.
IA has campaigned against the Kvanefjeld project for years because of the presence of uranium but otherwise supports mining and potentially oil exploration as a way for Greenland to win independence from Denmark.
Global warming is increasingly opening up the Arctic's natural resources and has placed Greenland at the heart of what some call a new "great game" as the US, China and Russia jostle for influence in the far north.
Former US president Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland from Denmark in 2019 after Copenhagen blocked a number of attempts by Chinese companies to become involved in infrastructure projects on the island. The US already has a military base in Thule in the far north of Greenland.
Kvanefjeld is owned by Australia's Greenland Minerals, in which the Chinese rare earths producer Shenghe Resources is the largest shareholder.
Not for sale
IA will now start discussions with smaller parties about forming a coalition but has stressed its opposition to Kvanefjeld even as it remains open to other mining projects.
Mute Egede, IA's party leader and the country's likely next prime minister, said in 2019 that the island was not for sale but that American interest could help Nuuk wrest more power from Copenhagen.
“Greenland will always be ours. [Trump’s interest] will start a more equal relationship between Greenland and Denmark. Greenland can get more influence on foreign affairs,” he said in an interview in Greenland’s parliament in Nuuk.
Mr Egede added that gaining independence while dealing with the interests of big powers such as the US and China would be a “balancing act”. He stressed: “It will be difficult. Our main message is that we don’t want to see more militarisation in the Arctic.”
On Wednesday, shortly after being declared winner of the vote, Egede told Greenland’s state broadcaster: “There are two issues that have been important in this election: one is people’s living standards. The other is our health and the environment. Things are happening, and now the population has stood up and demanded it be stopped.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021