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Michael Somare to be Papua New Guinea PM After Turbulent Election - 2002-08-05

Papua New Guinea has cast its ballot for its prime minister after a turbulent and sometimes violent six-week election. Michael Somare, who is the island nation's first post-independence prime minister, is returning to the job for the third time.

Mr. Somare's National Alliance Party won the biggest block of seats in Papua New Guinea's Parliament - 19 out of 109 - giving him first right to try to form a government.

So far, Mr. Somare has managed to gain the support of 70 legislators and cobble together a seven-party coalition to govern.

He says returning to the post of prime minister some 27 years after his first term will help bring stability to the troubled nation. "The government's main aim over the next five years will be to create political stability to allow economic reform to take place," he said.

In his first address to Parliament Monday, Mr. Somare acknowledged the huge challenge he faces in governing a country crippled by debt, dwindling resources, a restless military and other problems such as a rampant AIDS epidemic.

"My role as a prime minister today is to facilitate, encourage and use the best expertise on the floor of this Parliament and within the coalition group to bring Papua New Guinea forward," said Mr. Somare.

Mr. Somare, who is affectionately known simply as "the chief," is a charismatic speaker, known for consensus building and to be above the nation's pervasive political corruption.

But having twice been removed as prime minister in votes of no-confidence by a fractious and divided parliament, Mr. Somare will have his work cut out for him.

More than 30 people were killed and tens of thousands of ballot papers were stolen or destroyed during the election period the most violent and chaotic in country's history.

Six seats in the volatile highlands region remain undecided, with election authorities unable to determine the winner.