Greenland has called an early election next month after four cabinet ministers quit and the premier went on leave and then resigned as the head of her party, amid a scandal involving the use of public funds.

Parliament in the semi-autonomous territory decided late Wednesday, elections will be held at the end of November, a year-and-a-half earlier than planned.

Aleqa Hammond

Aleqa Hammond, Greenland's first female premier, is on a leave of absence until an investigation is completed into her alleged private spending of public funds worth about $20,100 on hotels and flights. (The Associated Press)

Premier Aleqa Hammond had initially decided to take a leave of absence until an investigation was completed into her alleged private spending of public funds worth more than 106,000 kroner (about $20,000) on hotels and flights for her family.  She later resigned as the leader of the Siumut Party.

The revelation prompted a highly unusual protest that one witness says brought 500 to 600 people outside a small church in Nuuk, the capital, where parliamentarians traditionally gather before parliament opens.

“It was pretty loud. It was very critical. Even very aggressive,” says Walter Turnowsky, a reporter with the Greenland Broadcasting Corporation or KNR in Nuuk.

Hammond eventually paid back the money, but Turnowsky says it took her four reminders and a year and a half to do so.

Former Premier Kuupik Kleist resigned his seat after it was revealed he owed 25,000 kroners (about $5,000) for personal expenses.

Turnowsky says the situation is frustrating for many Greenlanders.

“I think many people had the feeling that we put all this behind us in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and now all these things are happening again.”

The political crisis casts doubt on Hammond's dream of seeing the mostly ice-covered Arctic island achieving full financial independence from Denmark if it could harvest underground mineral wealth. She had a ban removed on mining radioactive minerals, a byproduct of extracting rare earth metals, among others.

The election will be held at on November 28th.

With files from The Associated Press