Former PNG leader returns to Parliament

HAMISH MCDONALD
Last updated 10:08 03/07/2012
Sir Michael Somare
LEADER: Sir Michael Somare, a figure in Papua New Guinea politics for more than 40 years.

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Michael Somare, Papua New Guinea's version of ''Lazarus with a triple bypass'', is looking forward to returning to Parliament and dishing it back to the political rivals who kicked him out last year.

Gesturing to his chest, opened twice by doctors in Singapore last year for life-saving surgery, the four-time prime minister said yesterday he had rejected his family's advice to retire.

Instead Sir Michael is running to redress the insult of his abrupt removal after 43 years in Parliament, from pre-independence times, and will probably regain the seat representing his home province of East Sepik in elections due to finish on Friday.

''Everywhere people have said, 'Ours is a sorry vote. We want to show, the people of PNG, a Sepik who represented us and represented the whole country should be not treated in that way','' Sir Michael said.

Last August Parliament voted that Sir Michael was considered to have vacated the prime ministership after months away for medical treatment. He was then voted out of Parliament.

Two rulings by the Supreme Court reinstated him, but were rejected by the replacement government led by Peter O'Neill.

The deputy prime minister, Belden Namah, stormed into the court in May to arrest the chief justice for alleged sedition.

Sir Michael's return to Parliament, possibly as leader of a National Alliance group that will be large enough to play a role in forming government, suggests that these elections may not end months of constitutional turmoil, as many citizens and business investors hope.

Sitting in the waterfront Windjammer Hotel in Wewak, Sir Michael cut a trim figure, persisting with the trademark Melanesian kilt eschewed by his younger counterparts. He tucked into a lunch of hamburger and chips while heatedly condemning his usurpers.

Last week he and family members took a motorboat for a two-hour trip to cast their votes in the small village at the mouth of the mighty Sepik River where he spent his early years, part of them under Japanese wartime occupation.

Sir Michael said he had been preparing to retire at these elections, but the way he was expelled was no way to treat a longstanding MP and prime minister.

''Just at a tick of the Speaker's pen, he says I'm out, and I'm out of Parliament,'' Sir Michael said. But he has no ambition to be prime minister again.

''My idea is to get National Alliance and its coalition partners back into government, then say goodbye to them, stay as a backbencher and stay in my province.''

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Overtures had been made by camps in the present government, including O'Neill's party, with a view to working together after the election, but Sir Michael says he will not accept them.

''They did a dishonourable thing by me,'' he said. ''They should have waited. They removed me while I was in a hospital bed. That hurt me more than anything else. I can see them as members of Parliament, but none of them will be working with me.

''They stabbed me in the back after keeping them for 9½ years, making them ministers, very important portfolios.''

He said the vote to remove him fell far short of the majority required under the constitution and laws, as the Supreme Court had twice ruled.

''All along I have been following the constitution of the country, which I helped to write,'' Sir Michael said.

''And you put these rogue people back in there, they'll do exactly the same thing. And if it doesn't suit them they'll change the laws. Then we end up with a dictatorship. I want to avoid as much as possible the type of things that happen in Africa.''

Sir Michael said he would pursue the jailing of those politicians who had shown contempt for the Supreme Court, to teach them a lesson about following the law.

''I don't forget these things. I am an old man of 76. I have not forgotten; my young thing is ticking in me.''

- Sydney Morning Herald

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