PNG'S SIR MICHAEL SOMARE BACK IN POWER

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 5, 2002 – NAU-FM/ Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---Sir Michael Somare, the man who led Papua New Guinea to independence, swept back into the prime minister's job today.

Sir Michael was elected by a vote of 88-0 with no one standing against him.

Outgoing prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta, admitting that he had no hope of retaining power, had stepped aside as leader of his own party the day before.

Another former prime minister, Bill Skate -- who played a key role in putting together the Somare-led coalition -- was easily elected Speaker by 68 votes to 35.

With 103 members eligible to vote, 52 was enough to elect the new prime minister. Sir Mekere and his remaining supporters abstained from the vote for prime minister.

The Somare-led government is expected to quickly appoint a nine-member caretaker Cabinet, adjourn Parliament for three weeks and start planning for a tough supplementary budget.

Sir Michael indicated over the weekend that the past government had overspent by hundreds of millions of kina. "It’s going to be tough economic times,’’ he said.

He indicated his government would try to fulfil the free education payments -- introduced by the Morauta Government -- for the rest of this year and then review this.

Other big spending plans of the Morauta Government up for review are the Yumi Bridge project and the Gaming Control Board. Public service recruitment could be frozen.

Sir Michael denied his National Alliance-led government would change the One-China policy, saying speculation that Taiwan would be recognized alongside Beijing were groundless.

Foreigners who asked about it did so "because I happen to be a friend of the Taiwanese,’’ he said.

Last-minute tactics to influence the voting continued right up to 10 am, when the 103 MPs-elect began filing into Parliament.

The major switch occurred yesterday afternoon when Sir Mekere told a news conference he was stepping aside as leader of the People's Democratic Movement.

He said under his leadership, the party had not been able to muster the numbers to form government.

"Under me, that’s not possible,’’ a terse Sir Mekere told reporters. He had lost many key supporters during the elections.

A group of 11 independents were up until last night still adamant they would force the election of the prime minister to go into the second phase.

The independents -- led by governors Tim Neville (Milne Bay), Clement Nakmai (West New Britain) and Mal Kela Smith (Eastern Highlands) -- said they had a total of 11 independents and nine one-man party members in their camp.

On Sir Mekere resigning, Mr. Smith said; "Sir Mekere’s resignation was a surprise. I don’t think it was premeditated on our part. We didn’t know anything about it.’’

Armed police ringed the Parliament grounds, inside and outside, to ensure the starting of the seventh Parliament was not disturbed.

This was after elections marred by violence and intimidation in some Highlands provinces.

The Defense Force is on callout and can be brought in to help if the police see the need.

Members of the public were advised to stay away from Parliament as only invited guests were to attend and witness the proceedings from the public gallery.

Proceedings were broadcast on Karai radio and televised live on EMTV.

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