Somare says he remains Papua New Guinean PM

AFP, PORT MORESBY

Fri, Sep 02, 2011 - Page 5

Veteran Papua New Guinean leader Sir Michael Somare declared yesterday that he is still the Pacific nation’s prime minister despite his family announcing his retirement while he was ill.

Somare, 76, has been in politics almost 50 years and he became the country’s first prime minister after independence in 1975, but was sidelined by illness earlier this year, traveling to Singapore for heart surgery.

His family announced his resignation in June without consulting Somare, who they said was in intensive care and unable to discuss his future.

Peter O’Neill, once a finance minister in Somare’s government, was elevated to the top job last month by a majority vote of lawmakers, but a defiant Somare insisted he was still the country’s leader in a signed statement from Singapore, saying there had “never been any vacancy in the position of prime minister.”

“Let me be clear. I am ready, willing and able to complete my term as the only legally elected prime minister of Papua New Guinea,” Somare wrote.

His son, Arthur, heralded his return to the tiny Pacific nation to resume parliamentary duty.

“Sir Michael will come back to PNG specifically to turn up to parliament on Tuesday so that he remains the member of East Sepik,” Arthur Somare said, according to Australian Associated Press. “He will be returning to Papua New Guinea either Saturday or Sunday.”

However, the younger Somare, himself a member of parliament, repeated the family’s wish for the veteran patriarch to step down from politics.

“I wish for my father to retire as soon as possible. There are processes that need to be followed. He will retire on his time,” Arthur Somare said.

Often murky and rife with intrigue and corruption scandals, Papua New Guinea’s political scene has been dominated by Michael Somare for decades, with his resignation earlier this year seen as the end of an era.

O’Neill said the government “welcomes the news that the grand chief has recovered sufficiently to travel,” but rejected Michael Somare’s claim to the leadership.

“As a citizen, he is free to travel as and when he pleases, and we will accord him the respect he deserves,” O’Neill told the National newspaper. “Insofar as government is concerned, parliament has spoken overwhelmingly against his government and elected in a new government. As he has demonstrated, many times in the past, we expect him to respect the clear mandate of parliament.”