HELSINKI (AP) – Greenland will hold an early parliamentary election Tuesday focused in part on whether the semi-autonomous Danish territory should allow international companies to mine the important deposits of rare earth metals from the sparsely populated Arctic island.
Lawmakers agreed to an early election after center-right Democrats withdrew from Greenland’s ruling three-party coalition in February, leaving the center-left Front-led government with a minority in the national assembly, the Inatsisartut of 31 seats.
One of the main reasons the Democrats pulled out was a deep political divide over a proposed mining project involving uranium and rare earth metals in southern Greenland. Supporters see the Kvanefjeld mine project as a potential source of jobs and prosperity.
Outgoing Prime Minister Kim Kielsen lobbied to give the green light to the mine’s owner, Greenland Minerals, an Australia-based company with Chinese ownership, to start operations. Erik Jensen, Kielsen’s recent successor as leader of the Forward party, is more hesitant and has opposed granting the company a mining license.
Recent election polls showed that the left-wing People’s Community Party (Inuit Ataqatigiit), a staunch opponent of the mine project, was in a position to become the largest party in the Greenland Parliament.
The opposition party has claimed that the majority of Greenland’s 56,000 inhabitants, most of them indigenous Inuit, are against the project, largely for environmental reasons.
Observers stress that political polls in Greenland have proven to be uncertain and that the level of support above 30% enjoyed by the People’s Community party in pre-election polls may not necessarily be valid.
“A third of voters decide at the last minute, and support for (Community of the People) is overestimated,” political scientist Leander Nielsen of the University of Greenland was quoted as saying by the Norwegian news agency NTB.
One of Forward’s initial justifications for granting a mining license to Greenland Minerals was that the proceeds from the project would strengthen Greenland’s economy and thus aid in efforts to fully delink the island from Denmark through independence, an ambition fueled by Forward, the Community of the People and some other parties.
“In the past, I was very concerned about the fact that, of course, we must be independent. And we will too one day, “Greenland resident Lise Svenningsen told Danish public broadcaster DR. “But I think we should focus much more on the conditions of the population, and that politicians should try to act on the things that they promise year after year.”
The mining proposal is relevant beyond Greenland. The largely ice-covered island has the largest undeveloped rare earth metal deposits in the world, according to the US Geological Survey.
Estimates show that the Kvanefjeld mine could host the largest deposit of rare earth metals outside of China, which currently accounts for more than 90% of global production.
Rare earth metals are used in a wide range of sectors and products, including smartphones, wind turbines, microchips, electric car batteries, and weapon systems.
In 2019, former President Donald Trump raised an idea to buy Greenland for the United States from Denmark for strategic reasons. The initiative was greeted with an uproar in Copenhagen and dismissed as an absurd idea. However, international interest in Greenland has continued as major powers, the United States, China and Russia, rush to establish their presence in the Arctic.
Washington opened a U.S. consulate in Nuuk, the Greenlandic capital, last year as part of a new Arctic strategy adopted by the Trump administration.
Under a 1951 agreement, NATO member Denmark allowed the United States to build bases and radar stations in Greenland. The US Air Force currently maintains a base in northern Greenland, Thule Air Force Base, 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) south of the North Pole.
Greenland, the world’s largest non-continent island, has its own government and Parliament, and is dependent on Denmark for its defense, foreign and monetary policies.
Voting in Tuesday’s elections will end at 2200 GMT. The first results are expected on Wednesday.