Greenland’s premier is ousted from party leadership by a rival promising stronger pursuit of independence

Erik Jensen defeated current premier Kim Kielsen in a battle for control of Siumut, Greenland's dominant political party.

By Martin Breum - November 30, 2020
Erik Jensen shakes hands after a successful bid to replace current premier Kim Kielsen as leader of Siumut, Greenland’s largest political party. (Martin Breum)

On Sunday, delegates from Siumut, the lead party in Greenland’s governing coalition, met in the capital Nuuk and elected Erik Jensen as the party’s new chairman.

The 45-year-old Jensen will also likely replace his predecessor, Kim Kielsen, as head of Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s self-rule government. Jensen won the party leadership election with 39 votes against Kielsen’s 32.

Jensen has worked much of his adult life as an administrator with INI, Greenland’s publicly owned housing facility. He is a former member of the municipal council in Sisimiut, Greenland’s second largest city, where he still lives.

Shortly after being elected, Jensen told ArcticToday that he would continue the quest for Greenland’s independence from Denmark and pursue in principle trade with all willing nations, including both the U.S. and China. He also said that he aimed to pursue independence from Denmark more energetically than has been customary during Kielsen’s six years as party chairman.

“That was in my election program. We are on the path towards independence. That is what provides warmth in any heart in Greenland. We aim to take over more areas of responsibility from Denmark,” he said.

More specifically, he explained that he would like to see Greenland take over from Denmark responsibility firstly for Greenland’s veterinary control, immigration, shipping and also increased responsibility for foreign policy matters. All in order to secure increased revenues, employment and growth in Greenland. According to Greenland’s current arrangements with Denmark, Greenland is free to take over many of the responsibilities for Greenland’s administration that are still handled by Denmark, as long as Nuuk also takes over the costs involved.

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Reminded of U.S. president Donald Trump’s August 2019 offer to buy Greenland, he reiterated the initial response from Greenland’s self-rule authority: “We are open for business, but not for sale.” He welcomed the opportunities for increased trade and other cooperation embedded in the increased U.S. interest in Greenland, but he also stressed his willingness to trade with any nation, including China, if conditions are right:

“Greenland wants to cooperate with nations all over the world, whether they are blue, yellow or red, as long as they observe the law, relevant conventions and human rights,” he said. This has been also the policy during Kielsen’s leadership.

Transition must wait

For now, the current premier, Kielsen, remains head of Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s government. That position is appointed by Intasisartut, Greenland’s parliament, and there is no legal requirement that the head of the government must also be a party leader. Jensen on Sunday told news media that he has no intention of forcing a transition, but many observers here predicted that Kielsen may step down relatively soon, with Jensen as his obvious replacement.

Siumut has led all but one government in Greenland since the formation of Greenland’s parliamentary system in 1979, and only once, from 1988 to 1991, has a Siumut government been led by someone other than the party’s chairman.

Greenland’s parliament, which is to appoint any new government, ended its fall session on Friday and is not presently scheduled to meet again until the spring, which may prolong the transition.

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The change of chairman comes after months of increasing turmoil within the Siumut party.

Until November 2019, Jensen was a part of Kielsen’s government, before he stepped down, vowing to dethrone Kielsen and replace him.

Another of Kielsen’s critics, Vivian Motzfeldt, was elected Siumut’s deputy chairman on Sunday. As those results became clear, Jensen took Motzfeldt for an improvised waltz in front of cheering delegates, celebrating what several party sources said was the successful end of a long and deliberate effort by key party members to renew Greenland’s most powerful political movement.

Almost all members of the party’s internal main board were also replaced by Jensen supporters.