Somare likely to win election once again

PRIME Minister Sir Michael Somare is certainly a survivor, having led the country into independence in 1975 and making political history in 2007 by becoming the first to last a full five-year term in office. By Brian Gomez

Many observers now believe he is going to be the first incumbent to regain office and to lead the National Government for a record fifth occasion.

Sitting governments have all done poorly in past elections. At the 2002 polls, some 80% of the 109 sitting members of parliament lost their seats, reflecting the high casualty rate of MPs in every election.

Just as was the case with previous prime ministers going into national elections, Sir Mekere Morauta saw his Peoples' Democratic Movement (PDM) decimated at the polls though the reformist leader was himself voted back into parliament.

A number of the major parties, along with all former prime ministers with the lone exception of Sir Rabbie Namaliu, have taken pot shots at Somare's ruling National Alliance and urged the public to vote it out of office.

But some corporate leaders and top bureaucrats are convinced Somare will, for the first time, pull off an election victory, with NA winning the biggest number of seats in the coming national election.

"He is too smart a campaigner. No other political leader is capable of beating him," one top finance industry executive told PNGIndustryNews.net.

This view was also echoed this week by another top government bureaucrat.

Under 'Integrity Laws' passed by the former Morauta Government, the leader of the party with the most seats will be called by the governor-general to form the next government, ending the previous chaotic horse-trading that sometimes saw leaders of minority parties become prime minister.

Just as in 2002 when there were serious concerns within the business community about the possibility of Somare becoming prime minister again, similar fears are being expressed once again.

The main criticism was that Somare had not achieved much previously, and that the same could be expected this time around.

Those opposed to Somare on that score have been proved wrong.

His National Alliance and its coalition partners have, partly with the aid of record windfall revenue from commodity exports, been widely acclaimed as the most successful, and best, government since independence.

Nevertheless, there is concern that success enjoyed between 2002 and 2007 would not be repeated in the 2007-2012 period if the National Alliance comes to the helm in the 8th parliament.

"I am very concerned about Sir Michael's close advisers, including an expatriate," commented the bureaucrat referred to earlier.

He made particular reference to the recent establishment of Petromin, which will inherit government equity in mining and oil ventures.

The Ombudsman Commission is already challenging the constitutionality of this controversial organisation.

The bureaucrat said he also saw the hand of these advisers in the proposed LNG agreement between InterOil and the government, noting that there has been pressure for this to be signed soon - even before the basic financial parameters for the project have been established.

There is no assurance at this stage, he said, that InterOil's Elk gas field will be able to support the large facility that is proposed alongside the unprofitable Napa Napa crude oil refinery.

Another business executive, closely allied with the booming mining sector, suggested many private sector leaders would prefer to see the next government headed by "reformers" such as Morauta or former Treasurer Bart Philemon.

Economic commentators suggest that although the Somare Government made big advances on the macroeconomic front and large investments are taking place in housing developments in particular, there has been little reform on the microeconomic front.

Until this happens, they suggest, the country will be unable to make rapid and sustainable economic progress.

Although government utilities, such as telecommunications and power and the National Airline, Air Niugini, have all enjoyed significant improvements in their operating and technical performances there is concern that, without requisite reforms, there was a danger of backsliding occurring at any time.

The bright spots in this regard have been the impending introduction of competition from two private, mobile phone companies; and the steadily growing role of the PNG Sustainable Development Program, the company that inherited BHP Billiton's 52% stake in Ok Tedi with a mandate to use part of its revenue for immediate development.

PNGSDP is funding innovative solar power programs in remote villages in the Western Province and is assessing hydro power potential throughout the country along with other initiatives, including a plan for an ambitious infrastructure corridor in that province.

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