Pro-mining party doubles support in Greenland vote, coalition talks near

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A pro-business party that promised to champion Greenland’s nascent mining industry almost doubled its support in elections, results showed on Wednesday, raising the prospect of a shift in the coalition government.

Siumut candidate, Karl Kristian Kruse, and leader of Siumut Party, Kim Kielsen, are seen outside Godthaabshallen in Nuuk, Greenland April 24, 2018. Ritzau Scanpix/Christian Klindt Soelbeck/via REUTERS

The centrist Demokraterne party took nearly 20 percent of the vote and became the third biggest group after it won over supporters from the two main parties in the last coalition, up from 11.8 percent four years earlier.

Greenland’s ruling center-left Siumut party, led by prime minister Kim Kielsen, remained the biggest party, but with a much smaller share - 27 percent down from 34 percent. The former police officer was expected to start coalition talks soon.

“I would think the next government will be more pro-business than what we’ve had in the last few years,” said Mikaa Mered, an Arctic expert and professor at the Ileri institute in Paris.

Dog sleds had to ferry voting papers to polling stations across the sparely populated country for Tuesday’s vote.

Surveys suggested that the 40,769 eligible voters were most interested in improving poor infrastructure and boosting an economy that depends on fishing and annual grants from Denmark.

Most parties including Siumut pressed their plans to develop the economy, saying the widely popular idea of independence from Denmark was still a long-term goal.

Demokraterne focused its campaign on calls for tax cuts and promised to seek investment in the mining industry.

The country has tried to attract foreign investment in its untapped hydrocarbon and mineral resources and in tourism, but poor infrastructure and slow bureaucracy have limited development.

Now, after a ruby pink sapphire mine operated by Norway’s LNS Group started operating last year, and Canada’s Hudson Resource announced plans start a anorthosite project this year, locals are hoping more investments will follow.

During a visit to Beijing last year, Kielsen and his cabinet courted Chinese investors and officials and are now considering opening a representation office in Beijing.

China’s Shenghe Resources is already partnering with Greenland Minerals and Energy to develop a rare earth and uranium project. Ironbark Zinc has asked state-owned China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group to help it finance and develop a zinc and lead project.

Last month, Greenland short-listed a Chinese consortium to expand three airports, causing concern in Denmark which has given its ally the United States wide military access.

“Kielsen wants to push for construction of the airports, and this is one of the factors that will led him to seek greater external cooperation, for example with China,” said Mered.

Siumut’s main partner in the last coalition was the left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) party, which came second in Tuesday’s vote, also with a smaller share.

Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark but has largely ruled itself since 2009, except for foreign and defense issues.

Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Andrew Heavens