The National,Tuesday March 15th, 2016
Sir Michael Somare’s announcement of his impending retirement last week was greeted with front page coverage in this daily.
The soon-to-be 80-year-old former Prime Minister and arguably the longest serving parliamentarian in the British Commonwealth has given more than his
fair share to the growth and development of this country.
In fact his association with politics and the leadership of Papua New Guinea stretches all the way back before Independence.
Sir Michael will leave behind a legacy that will be hard to match, let alone surpass.
Unlike some members of parliament whose tenures have been either flashes in the pan or bright sparks followed by long stretches of mediocrity, Sir Michael is the only man in this nation’s 40-year history that has been part of every parliament.
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 wish him well as he finishes 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 East Sepik Regional member, 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 the longest serving parliamentarian in the Commonwealth with a public life that has spanned 48 years in office (1968-2016).
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 the 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, that here is a giant in PNG’s short documented history and we would be remiss not to acknowledge him for it.
No one should doubt his influence on PNG politics.
He is the one all-binding force which saw the National Alliance hold on to power for what two terms in government.
His last term in charge laid the ground work for the period of political stability that we now see.
Gone are the days of continuous power plays and upheaval on the floor of parliament whenever a grace period was close to expiring.
Sir Michael’s is record which few will be able to match in the future.
The current government’s most senior politicians cut their teeth under the Grand Chief, whether they chose to acknowledge it or not.
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 had four terms ago.
It speaks of a strength of character that most MPs can only dream of.
It was Sir Michael’s leadership and charisma that pulled together the coalition that delivered the government to NA for two terms.
This idea has a lot of credence firstly, and many foreigners and some Papua New Guineans may discount this, but 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 through the years, there has always been that begrudging respect and admiration for him.
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 despite his latest term being an understandably quiet one.
No one else has proven themselves worthy of the same consideration.
Lastly, as much as we the people have lost a little faith in him over the years and questioned his motives, we owe him the dignity and honour of saying he has had enough.