Greenland eyes self-rule as it goes to the polls

Some 39,000 Greenlanders go to the polls to elect members of the local parliament as the Danish territory prepares for its new self-rule status that takes effect in three weeks.

Public opinion polls have suggested the pro-independence opposition party Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) could score a major victory, ousting the social democratic Siumut party from power after 30 years in government.

The head of Greenland’s local government, Hans Enoksen of the Siumut party, called the snap election in April, six months ahead of schedule, saying it was “most appropriate” to ask voters whom they would like to see lead Greenland “into this new era”.

A vast majority of Greenlanders, 75.5 percent, voted “yes” to greater autonomy in a referendum held in November 2008.

The self-rule status, which enters into force on June 21, paves the way for independence from Denmark and gives the island rights to lucrative Arctic resources and control over justice and police affairs and, to a certain extent, foreign affairs.

With its 2.1 million square kilometre (840,000 square mile) surface, 80 percent of which is covered by ice, Greenland is the world’s largest island and contains 10 percent of the world’s fresh water reserves.

Independence has grown especially important due to the potentially lucrative revenues from natural resources under Greenland’s seabed and icecap, which according to international experts is home to large oil and gas deposits as well as diamonds, gold and other minerals.

Melting ice in the Arctic owing to climate change could make the region more accessible to exploration in the future.

The IA party, which served in a coalition government with Siumut until 2007, was seen winning 44 percent of votes, almost double its score of 23 percent in the 2005 elections, according to a recent poll.

That score would dethrone Siumut as the biggest party.

According to political observers, voters are expected to punish Siumut for its perceived abuses of power after a slew of scandals.

It was seen losing three percentage points to 28 percent, while its coalition partner, the liberal Atassut party, would lose more than half of its support to 9.0 percent.

Polling stations open at 9:00 am (1100 GMT) and close at 8:00 pm (2200 GMT). Preliminary results are expected around midnight (0200 GMT Wednesday).


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