Sir Michael Somare resigns as party leader

PORT MORESBY, LELEMUKU.COM - Papua New Guinea's former prime minister, Sir Michael Somare, has resigned as party leader after disappointing election results.

So far in the 2012 poll - which has now been extended for another five days - his National Alliance party has won only five seats.

Sir Michael has led the National Alliance for 16 years. They won a majority of seats in the 2002 and 2007 elections.

His government was the first since PNG's independence to see out a five-year term.

With the National Alliance, he was prime minister for nine consecutive years until a mass defection of government MPs allowed Peter O'Neill to replace him last year.

Now in a statement Sir Michael says he has "little choice but to accept defeat".
O'Neill lead

He says he will remain an ordinary party member and dedicate his final term to the betterment of his people in East Sepik.

With counting almost completed in the national election, the party of caretaker Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has secured almost three times more seats than any other party.

Seventy-seven of the 111 seats have been declared so far, and Mr O'Neill's People's National Congress has 22 of those.

While that is not enough to secure a government outright, Mr O'Neill says he has the backing of at least 56 other MPs, including his former rival Sir Michael.

The electoral commissioner has extended the deadline for counting in the election.

Andrew Trawen says counting is still under way in 12 of PNG's 22 provinces.

The deadline for the return of writs was Friday but Mr Trawen says the Governor-General has approved a five-day extension.

Parliament's role
"Therefore the new date for the return of writs for the 2012 national parliament election is now Wednesday, August 1," he said.

Parliament should sit seven days after that to elect a new prime minister.

On Tuesday night, Mr O'Neill and Sir Michael pledged to work together to form the country's next government.

In a joint statement, they said it was clear the People's National Congress would win the most seats and be invited to form government.

"Now it's obvious that People's National Congress Party has got that mandate from the people," Mr O'Neill told reporters.

"It's only fair that People's National Congress Party is supported for the next government.

"We look forward to a very good working relationship over the next five years."

In the past 12 months, PNG has been consumed by the conflict between Mr O'Neill and the man he replaced as prime minister, Sir Michael.

The political deadlock began when Sir Michael, who was the country's first leader after independence, suffered ill health last year.

His family announced last June that he had resigned as leader while hospitalised in Singapore.

But he recovered and returned to challenge Mr O'Neill, who had been elected by lawmakers to the top job last August, and won the support of judges who said he should be reinstated. (RadioAustralia)

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