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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 30, 2002 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---Jubilation reigned at Government House in Port Moresby late yesterday as Sir Michael Somare accepted the invitation to try to form the 2002-2007 Papua New Guinea Government.

Governor General Sir Silas Atopare said it was political history for him to be formally offering one party the chance to form government in such a way.

This flowed from the Integrity in Politics legislation passed by the 1997-2002 Parliament. The single largest party winner in this year’s elections has the right to be the first to attempt to form a majority government.

The National Alliance -- headed by Sir Michael, the prime minister who led the country to independence -- claims 19 seats in the 109-seat house.

Current Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta's People’s Democratic Movement -- which leads the existing government -- is next in line with 10.

A total of 16 independent MPs stand between the major parties and the chance to form the government.

Parliament has been called to sit next Monday, when the National Alliance-led group has to show at least 55 members on the floor of Parliament.

But new legislation aside, political lobbying is yet to finalize who leads the country.

The People's Democratic Movement, the single biggest faction in the existing government, has yet to declare its stance.

Sir Mekere and party founder and former Prime Minister Paias Wingti are in Parliament but have lost many of their ministers and backbenchers. However, they are understood to have been busy working to build coalitions.

In other developments following six weeks of national elections marked by financial problems, and violence, intimidation and death in parts of the country's Highlands:

* 94 election writs out of 109 were returned to Sir Silas, marking the end of the election process for 17 provinces.

Electoral Commissioner Reuben Kaiulo said 16 seats were yet to be declared in the provinces of Enga and Southern Highlands. These were the areas worst hit by violence and interference in the electoral process.

* An independent check showed that there are 51 MPs in the Kokopo camp of the National Alliance and its partners. These include MPs from those who are signatories to the initial seven party coalition.

* Former prime minister and National Capital District MP Bill Skate, a leading member of the Kokopo group, expressed "surprised and sadness" over reports of foreigners lobbying for the People¹s Democratic Movement party to form the new government.

He was referring to comments by a senior politician and Kokopo MP Sir Rabbie Namaliu, who accused the Australian government of taking sides

* Australian High Commissioner Nick Warner issued a statement rejecting suggestions that his government was taking sides.

"Australia has and always will strongly support any elected government that pursues sound economic and other policies that are for the good for the people of Papua New Guinea," he said.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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