Papua New Guinea’s veteran leader Michael Somare has resigned as prime minister due to ill health after a total of 18 years in power in the Pacific island nation, his family told AFP Tuesday.
The 75-year-old underwent heart surgery earlier this year in a Singapore hospital and his son Arthur Somare said the family had decided without consulting the premier that he would retire.
“These complications have further delayed the anticipated time in which Sir Michael was expected to recover and return to Papua New Guinea,” Arthur Somare, himself a member of parliament, said.
“Therefore, on behalf of (his wife) Lady Veronica, I wish to announce that it is our family’s collective desire that Sir Michael be allowed to recover at his own pace and therefore retire.”
Arthur Somare’s spokesman added that Sir Michael remained in intensive care and was “not in a good enough condition” to discuss retirement, so the family took the decision on his behalf.
“In the greater interest and collective good of the country we are of the view that this decision is necessary, and we believe it will also be his desire to do so at this time given the circumstances,” Somare added.
Sir Michael has dominated Papua New Guinea’s fractious political scene for decades and his retirement after more than 40 years in parliament is the end of an era.
He stepped aside in April for a two-week suspension from office after being found guilty of financial misconduct dating back 20 years, but later extended the leave for medical reasons.
His deputy Sam Abal was promoted to acting prime minister, but has himself been embroiled in scandal, with his adopted son charged with murder earlier this month after the body of a waitress was found at the politician’s home with her throat slit.
Asked whether Abal would assume the prime ministership full-time, Arthur Somare’s spokesman said “the political process will take its course”.
Somare first become prime minister on independence in 1975, after earlier leading his country in the final years of administration by Australia as chief minister.
Although losing office on a vote of no confidence in 1980, he was re-elected and again served in the role from 1982 to 1985 and from 2002. He was last re-elected in 2007.