Greenlanders are bracing for a snap election that is seen as a referendum on a controversial mining project at the center of domestic political divide and of significant importance to the global mining industry.
The rare earth minerals project near Narsaq in southern Greenland has been dividing the political system for more than a decade.
Greenland Minerals, an Australian company, owns the site and the Chinese company Shenghe Resources is its main shareholder.
On Tuesday, people will vote for their national parliament, the Inatsisartut, and municipal representatives.
The decision to give the green light to the mine was one of the reasons early elections were called and dominated the election period.
At the end of November, Prime Minister Kim Kielsen, who paved the way for the preliminary approval of Greenland Minerals, lost the leadership of his social democratic party, Siumut (Forward), to a former minister in his government, Erik Jensen.
But when Jensen later expressed doubts about the mine, one of the coalition parties, the Demokraatit (Democrats) party, left the government and Kielsen lost its majority.
The biggest opposition party, the Inuit Ataqatigiit (Community of the People), has promised not to give a mining license to Greenland Minerals.
Even if the pro-separatist party is not against all mining, its deputy Sofia Geisler has declared herself opposed to the extraction of processes involving uranium and thorium, two radioactive by-products.
The Siumut party has ruled the island, home to around 56,000 people, for all but one term since autonomy in 1979. But recent polls show Inuit Ataqatigiit will win the election and become Greenland’s largest party. .
Siumut argued that the mine was vital to Greenland’s economy and its future ability to become independent from Denmark. The mining company promises that Greenland will receive 1.5 billion DKK ($ 240 million) per year for the 37 years it plans to operate the mine.
“More than 90 percent of our economy is based on fishing,” said Siumut leader Jensen. “We have to develop other industries to become more independent.”
According to the United States Geological Survey, Greenland has the largest undeveloped deposit of rare earth metals in the world.
The rare earth minerals from the mountain that Greenland Minerals wants to use can be used in the production of electronics, aerospace, and – as pro-miners like to point out – electric cars and other climate-friendly products.
The mountain also contains large amounts of uranium which can be used for nuclear power plants.
The Australian mining company has pledged more than 700 jobs at the mine, and about half of those jobs will be filled by locals early on – opportunities for some of the 6,500 people who live in the municipality of Kujalleq, which is home to the mountain. Kuannersuit and the mining project.
The municipality has experienced a sharp decline in its population over the past decades and in Narsaq, the village closest to the potential mine, more than 10% were unemployed in 2019.
But the promises of employment did little to assuage the fears of some residents.
“No one will buy meat from a lamb that lived next to a uranium mine,” said Piitaq Lund, a 31-year-old farmer whose 550 sheep roam the area near the mountain.
The region is the only part of the country that has a climate suitable for agriculture.
Fearing that the mine could see an exodus of families, Lund decided to run for a seat on the Inuit Ataqatigiit city council, to have his say against the mining project.
Ellen Frederiksen, a 61-year-old teacher, lives alongside Lund in Qassiarsuk, a small sheep herding village near the mountain of 30 people.
She is worried about uranium dust from the mine and fears that a dam could hold back the toxic waste.
“We leave them [future generations] the problem of ensuring that the dam does not overflow or break, ”she said. “I just think it’s extremely thoughtless.”
Minik Rosing, a Greenlandic geologist at the University of Copenhagen, said he understands residents’ concerns.
“What if the dam doesn’t hold up for thousands of years?” he said. “It is difficult to scientifically conclude whether the mine is a bad or a good idea … But the concerns are legitimate.”
Jensen says it is important to extract the minerals because they can be used in the fight against climate change.
Rosing does not buy this argument, however, as rare earth minerals are not a scarce resource.
“Geologists often say that rare earth minerals are neither rare, nor the earth. They are everywhere, ”he says. “It’s not like you are morally responsible for climate change if you don’t take advantage of these minerals.”
As for Tuesday’s vote, although Inuit Ataqatigiit enjoys strong support, Siumut is the oldest party with deep traditions in many parts of the country.
The parliament has 31 deputies and seven parties.
Anyone who manages to form a coalition of at least 16 MPs gets to the government.
Jensine Berthelsen, political editor for Sermitsiaq, a Greenland daily newspaper, said Inuit Ataqatigiit may have difficulty finding government partners because of its tough stance against the mine.
“The negotiations will be difficult because of the mountain,” she told Al Jazeera.