Is Sir Michael replaceable

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday, May 13, 2011

WE note with concern that Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare is not in the best of health.
He is currently residing in a Singapore medical facility receiving treatment for a heart complaint. News of the exact nature of this ailment is not known, however, we are sure the people of PNG wish only for his speedy recovery. 
Senior opposition member and Abau MP Sir Puka Temu on Wednesday in parliament took time to pass on his well wishes and acknowledgement of Sir Michael’s situation on behalf of his constituents. 
Such is Sir Michael’s standing in the PNG landscape that all citizens of this country will, in some way, feel a sense of ownership of this great statesman and, therefore, hope he can finish his career on his own terms.
Sir Michael is an icon in this country.
He is considered the “father” of the nation and, in many regards, has played a paternal role to many of the country’s leading figures in politics and the public service.
The 75-year-old, nowadays referred to as grand chief, has earned that title through the sheer longevity of his political career.
He has been recognised in some quarters as one of the longest serving parliamentarians in the Commonwealth with a public life that has spanned 43 years in office (1968-2011).
If there is one thing we can deduce from his track record, his achievements and his leadership, it is that he is a survivor and a fighter.
He is a man who has stood firm for his people’s rights and who has wanted only the best for his country.
We are not here to pay tribute to his achievements or to lionise his name but merely to remind everyone, friend and foe, here is a giant in PNG’s short documented history and we would be remiss not to acknowledge him for it.
The conundrum which now faces government is that with Sir Michael out for an indefinite period, the ship will surely list.
No one should doubt his influence on PNG politics. He is the one all-binding force which has seen National Alliance hold onto power for what will be two full terms in government. This is a record which few will be able to match in the future.
We can only speculate on this but, in hindsight, no other individual in parliament would have had the clout, wisdom, nous and character to form a party and to take the foremost position in PNG politics that Sir Michael has.
It speaks of strength of character that most MPs can only dream of.
In the, sometimes, convoluted atmosphere of parliament in Waigani, the present absence of Sir Michael will make government members uneasy for a number of reasons.
This was none more so evident when a conference of senior government MPs was reportedly in the process of picking among themselves who would likely be Sir Michael’s successor yesterday.
Coalition partner United Resources Party, through leader and Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru, flayed the cabal of NA MPs, saying they had no respect for “the father of the nation” who is resting after recovering from a complicated operation.
Agiru described the manner, in which certain members were already pre-empting a permanent leadership change as “highly disrespectful”.
Agiru said it was Sir Michael’s leadership and charisma that pulled together the coalition that has delivered the government to NA for two terms.
That idea has a lot of credence firstly, and many foreigners and some Papua New Guineans may discount this, because Sir Michael’s presence alone has had a calming influence on all sides of the house – and the nation for that matter. 
Secondly, despite being criticised by the opposition and in the media throughout the years, there has always been that begrudging respect and admiration for “Sana”. 
Of all the country’s prime ministers, he has cut a fine path earning the people’s trust regardless of the lapses in judgment or his sometimes stubborn nature.
Thirdly, unlike any septuagenarian still active in public office, he is relevant.
He is still a genuine heavyweight in a house of contenders and pretenders.
No one else (no current MP, unfortunately) has proved themselves worthy of the same consideration.
Lastly, as much as we, the people, have lost little faith in him over the years and questioned his motives, we owe him the dignity and honour of saying he has had enough.
After all, he has more than earned it.