HOW BILL SKATE WAS ELECTED PNG'S NEW PRIME MINISTER

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 23, 1997 - PACNEWS)---The election of Papua New Guinea's National Capital District Governor, Bill Skate, as PNG's first Papuan Prime Minister followed a dramatic 48 hours of political horse trading aimed at securing the former businessman and Speaker of Parliament the nation's top job.

When the political jockeying first began, Skate indicated he would support Sir Michael Somare's National Alliance. But when it became apparent that the group's nomination for Prime Minister would be Sir Michael, the Port Moresby strongman switched camps.

Skate began discussions with the former ruling coalition partners, the People's Progressive Party and Pangu Party, brokering a deal that guaranteed his party's support in their bid to form a new government, provided he received the nomination for Prime Minister.

With support from Skate's People's National Congress, Sir Mekere Morauta's People's Democratic Movement, and a number of independents, the former ruling coalition parties believed they had more than the 55 votes needed to form the next PNG government.

Skate, the first Papuan to be elected Prime Minister, has long held ambitions for the top job. He was often at loggerheads with political rival Sir Julius Chan and even initiated legal action over Chan's appointment as Prime Minister in 1994.

At the time, Skate was the Acting Opposition Leader in a coalition of parties which had staged many bitter struggles with the People's Progress Party and the Pangu Party. Less than three years later, Skate finds himself Prime Minister in a coalition involving these very same parties.

Despite his long-held political ambitions, Skate resigned as Speaker of the PNG Parliament to become the National Capital District Governor. He subsequently developed a solid reputation for helping improve facilities and services in the Port Moresby area.

Some political analysts point to the fragile coalition which helped Skate win the leadership, and his constant power struggles over the years as reasons why the new PNG government might have a difficult time. Others believe Skate's success as National Capital District Governor indicates he could be the answer to PNG's problems.

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