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Papua New Guinea's rival prime ministers unite
After elections, Papua New Guinea's rival prime ministers unite to form coalition government
By The Associated Press

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (AP) Peter O'Neill announced Wednesday that he will lead Papua New Guinea's next government with the support of his former bitter leadership rival Sir Michael Somare, ending a year of political chaos in the South Pacific island nation as the two vied for the top job.

While the results of recent elections have yet to be finalized, O'Neill said that he would be able to form a coalition government after four other parties gave him their support.

"I can assure our people and the country we have the numbers to form government," O'Neill told reporters. His People's National Congress has emerged as the most popular party from parliamentary elections held from June 23 until July 6.

Somare, a 76-year-old political veteran who was first elected prime minister when Papua New Guinea became independent of Australia in 1975, had late Tuesday openly backed O'Neill and his party to form government.

Papua New Guinea was plunged into political chaos in August last year when Parliament elected O'Neill prime minister in place of Somare, who was in Singapore undergoing medical treatment.

The Supreme Court ruled in May that Somare remained the country's rightful leader. But O'Neill refused to give back power.

Two of the three judges who made the ruling were later charged with sedition.

The Papua New Guinea Electoral Commission said O'Neill's party held 20 of the 66 seats declared by Wednesday. Counting is continuing in another 45 seats.

O'Neill needs the support of a majority of the 111 seats in Parliament to become prime minister.

Somare said the five lawmakers in his own party would join O'Neill's coalition. Another former prime minister, Sir Julian Chan, declared the six lawmakers in his own party would support O'Neill. Former prime minister Pias Wingti, the only member of his party so far elected, also backed O'Neill.

O'Neill announced he had enough support to form government after being joined by the Triumph Heritage Empowerment Party, which is in a strong position to win as many as 12 seats.

The election results were to be finalized by Friday this week but the commission has extended that deadline to a date to be set.

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