Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 17:01 UK

Greenland votes in landmark polls

By Julian Isherwood
BBC News, Copenhagen

Hans Enoksen votes in Nuuk (2 June 2009)
Scandals and social problems have embarrassed PM Hans Enoksen

The people of Greenland are voting in parliamentary elections seen as a turning-point on the territory's path to partial independence from Denmark.

Greenland is the world's largest island - larger than all of Europe combined - but has just 39,000 eligible voters.

Last year, Greenlanders approved plans to give their government more powers.

Greenland receives large subsidies from Denmark, but the retreat of its ice-cap because of global warming is opening up gas and oil exploration opportunities.

Financial scandals

In many ways, this election is a turning point for Greenland, which is on the threshold of the new self-rule arrangement that will give the new Greenland parliament and government the right to decide on most of the issues concerning the country.


In effect, Greenlanders will be able to decide on just about everything apart from defence and foreign affairs - issues upon which the authorities in the capital, Nuuk, will continue to negotiate with Denmark.

Greenland's current Prime Minister, Hans Enoksen, called the election early, as he said he had wanted to give islanders the chance to decide who would be leading them into the "new era".

But the election drums had actually been beating for some time.

A series of financial scandals involving leading members of the governing Social Democratic Siumut Party have become increasingly embarrassing for Mr Enoksen's administration.

That, coupled with extensive social problems - widespread violence and alcoholism, too few schools, and even fewer hospitals and medical staff - have meant that the population has become increasingly disenchanted with its current political leadership.

Greenland map

And the opinion polls clearly show how dissatisfied the electorate is, although polls in Greenland in particular tend to be somewhat uncertain due to very small samples.

The latest one, from Nuuk University, suggests massive support for the opposition left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit (Community of the People) party at 44% - double what it achieved in the last election in 2005.

The Social Democrats, on the other hand, are seen as dropping just over 3% to 28%, with the junior coalition Liberal Atassut Party having its vote halved to 9%.

Whatever way the election goes, Greenland, which despite its ties to Denmark is not a member of the European Union, will continue to receive rather major subsidies from Denmark.

However, as it eventually begins to realise the potential of its underground resources, what is currently a subsidy of half of its annual budget will be reduced considerably.

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