Sat, May 14, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Retirement rumors swirl over Papua New Guinean PM

AFP, SYDNEY

Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Michael Somare has had major heart surgery, his family said yesterday, raising the prospect that the man known as “the Chief” may not return to lead his nation.

Somare, who turned 75 last month and has led his nation for almost half of its 36 years of independence, is recovering from heart valve replacement surgery in Singapore, his daughter and spokeswoman Betha Somare said.

“He is OK, he is recovering, but because of the nature of the operation and also his age, it’s going to take a few more weeks for him to recover,” she said by telephone from Singapore.

Somare has dominated Papua New Guinea’s fractious political scene for decades and his retirement after more than 40 years in parliament would bring an end to an era in the impoverished Pacific island nation.

Betha Somare said reports that her father would almost certainly not return to the prime ministership were premature, but refused to speculate on how long he would remain as prime minister.

“I can’t comment on that at the moment,” she said when asked whether he would return to lead his coalition government in Port Moresby, continuing his current stint in the top job that began in 2002. “But in terms of the party, and in terms of [the reports] ... I think they are being a bit premature.”

Betha Somare said media speculation that her father would no longer lead the National Alliance party, potentially throwing the country into turmoil as it stands on the brink of a resources boom, was politically motivated.

“National Alliance is very much intact and waiting for the PM’s recovery,” she said. “I think it’s too early for me to say that [he will return as prime minister]. He’s recovering, but I guess we’ll see, depending on what’s happening in PNG, if it necessitates a change of leadership. But at this time it’s too early.”

Sir Michael stepped aside last month for a two-week suspension from office after being found guilty of financial misconduct dating back 20 years, but later extended the leave for medical reasons, promoting deputy Sam Abal to acting prime minister.

The Port Moresby-basePost Courier newspaper said the National Alliance would meet on Thursday to elect an acting leader, who could potentially take over if Somare steps down.

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