Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a parliamentary system in which elections are held regularly, but the polls have often been marred by irregularities and violence. Party allegiances are unstable, and only two governments have survived for a full term since independence in 1975. Over the past two decades, a boom in mineral resources extraction has helped successive incumbent governments to consolidate more control. The judiciary retains significant independence, and the media are mostly free to criticize the government. Corruption remains a serious problem.
- General elections held in July and August resulted in a new term for Prime Minister James Marape, but the process was plagued by irregularities and violence that killed at least 50 people across the country.
- Prior to Marape’s reelection by Parliament, the Supreme Court rejected a bid by former prime minister Peter O’Neill to have the vote delayed until contests in all 118 constituencies were decided. Results in about 14 parliamentary races were still outstanding at the time.
- By September, 84 legal challenges arising from the general elections had been lodged with the country’s courts.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The governor general represents the British monarch as head of state and formally appoints the prime minister, who is the head of government, following an election process in Parliament. A law provides that the largest political party emerging from general elections has the first chance to nominate a prime minister.
James Marape of the Papua and Niugini Union Party (Pangu) was reelected as prime minister in August 2022 after that year’s parliamentary elections, which had begun in July. Marape, who won the support of 97 members of the 118-seat Parliament, had served as prime minister since his predecessor, Peter O’Neill of the People’s National Congress (PNC), resigned to avoid defeat in a no-confidence vote in 2019. Ahead of the 2022 vote for the premiership, O’Neill unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to bar Parliament from convening until all outstanding races had been decided.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
Members of the unicameral National Parliament are directly elected for five-year terms. A limited preferential voting system requires voters to choose three preferred candidates on their ballots. In March 2022, prior to that year’s elections in July and August, Parliament approved the creation of seven new electoral districts, lifting the number of seats from 111 to 118.
Serious flaws were reported during the 2022 election period, including manipulation of the voter rolls, appointment of politically compromised returning officers, fraudulent completion of ballots, and hijacking of ballot boxes. Violence was particularly acute in the Highlands Region, but hijacking of ballot boxes also occurred in the Kabwum and Markham Districts of Morobe Province. Tribal fighting in the town of Mendi led to the outcome in that Southern Highlands Province seat being decided without a count of all the ballot boxes. While the electoral process was smoother in coastal areas, they were not completely free from irregularities and violence. About 50 people were killed in election-related violence in 2022, though this represented a decrease from previous elections.
Parliamentary seats were ultimately divided among numerous parties. Marape’s Pangu obtained 38 seats. The PNC party of his closest rival, former prime minister O’Neill, received 16 seats. The United Resources Party secured 11, the National Alliance Party won 6, and 20 other parties and 10 independents divided the remainder. Litigants had filed 84 cases challenging the results in the courts as of September, and most remained unresolved at year’s end.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||1.001 4.004|
The electoral law, which requires voters to rank three candidates on a preferential ballot, is fair but complex to administer. The voter rolls are poorly maintained. The number of voters enrolled in Highlands districts has at times been well above the estimated voting-age population in that region.
A census scheduled for 2021 was not completed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Marape promised to conduct a fresh census of the population in 2023 and to introduce an electronic voter-identification system.
Electoral officials have faced allegations of corruption in recent years. Local election management bodies are chronically lacking in independence, particularly in the Highlands, where ballot-box stuffing and other manipulation by candidates and allied officials remained common in 2022. Also during the election period, the return of writs was repeatedly extended owing to delays in the counting process, and the Electoral Commission ultimately decided to declare MPs elected even in districts where ballot boxes were hijacking and burned, instead of finding that such elections had “failed.”
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to a number of serious problems surrounding the administration of the 2022 elections, including de facto political control over local election management, theft or destruction of ballot boxes, increasingly flawed voter rolls, and mass casting of ballots by election officials and candidates in some areas.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties are able to form and operate freely, but many candidates run as independents and join factions only after reaching Parliament. Electoral loyalties are driven by local and personal factors at the constituency level. Lawmakers frequently switch affiliations and alliances.
Prime Minister Marape transformed Pangu, the country’s oldest party, into his vehicle for reelection in 2022, and it emerged from the balloting as the largest party in Parliament.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
The opposition has a reasonable chance of dislodging the government through elections, defections, or no-confidence votes. Since independence in 1975, only two governments have served a full five-year term: the Michael Somare–led government of 2002–07 and the O’Neill-led government of 2012–17. The law granting the largest party the first opportunity to form a government creates an electoral advantage for sitting prime ministers, adding to the incentive of taking power through midterm no-confidence votes before facing elections. Incumbent governments have won all four elections since 2007.
The frequency of no-confidence votes is limited by a provision that grants an incoming prime minister an 18-month “grace period.” Another grace period takes effect 12 months before the next scheduled elections. However, no-confidence votes remain regular occurrences. Marape’s current postelection grace period will expire in 2024.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
In coastal and lowland areas, most citizens and candidates are generally free to make political choices without undue interference. However, in the Highlands, many local leaders, politicians, and candidate agents control the balloting process and complete the ballot papers in bulk—a form of “assisted voting.” As a result, the affected citizens are essentially denied the right to vote.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Although all citizens have equal political rights under the law, women are underrepresented in elected offices. Only two women were elected to the 118-member Parliament in 2022. Proposals to establish reserved seats for women have not been successful to date.
LGBT+ people face societal discrimination that impedes their ability to advocate for their interests in the political sphere.
A 2001 peace agreement ended a civil war in Bougainville and provided for an independence referendum in the ethnically diverse autonomous region. Over 180,000 people participated in a nonbinding referendum in 2019, and 97.7 percent voted for independence. In a 2021 statement, Marape and Bougainville president Ishmael Toroama agreed to finalize a political settlement “no earlier than 2025 and no later than 2027.” The 2001 peace agreement requires the National Parliament to make the ultimate decision on whether Bougainville becomes independent.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
The prime minister heads the government, but ministers often exercise considerable control over their portfolios without necessarily being answerable to the cabinet. Prime ministers frequently suspend Parliament during periods of vulnerability to no-confidence votes; speakers of Parliament wield significant power over the conduct of parliamentary business, including no-confidence votes.
There are no powerful external forces that determine the policies of the government, though logging and mining companies have been known to obtain influence. The government has only a limited ability to implement its policies across the country, as the state’s presence in more remote areas is minimal.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0.000 4.004|
Corruption is pervasive and remains the most important hindrance to development. Anticorruption institutions have been subject to political interference. Task Force Sweep was established in 2011 to root out corruption, and it carried out a variety of investigations targeting politicians, civil servants, and businessmen. However, when the unit turned its attention to fraudulent payments made to Port Moresby law firm Paraka Lawyers and allegedly authorized by then prime minister O’Neill, he disbanded the task force in 2014; when courts ordered its restoration, the government cut its funding.
O’Neill was arrested in 2020 in connection with an investigation into procedural irregularities and possible corruption in the purchase of generators from Israel in 2013. He was acquitted of abuse of power in 2021.
Also in 2020, Parliament passed legislation to establish an Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC). The new body’s interim chairman warned in 2021 that it did not yet have the capacity or resources to address corruption cases, though it was scheduled to come into full operation in 2023. A National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate exists within the police force but is similarly underresourced.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Government operations are generally opaque, and the government does not frequently release reliable information about public expenditures, procurement processes, or officials’ assets. PNG does not have an access to information law. When government data are released, especially regarding public revenue and expenditure, they are often inaccurate and sometimes manipulated.
In 2014, the PNG government used a A$1.2 billion (US$827 million) loan to purchase a share in the oil exploration firm Oil Search, which it later sold at a loss. Hearings into the deal began in 2019. In 2021, a Commission of Inquiry heard that the loan, provided by a Swiss bank, was taken despite warnings from within the cabinet. The commission additionally heard that the deal was only submitted to Parliament after it was put in place. The report of the Commission of Inquiry was submitted to Parliament in April 2022.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of the press is generally respected. Local media provide independent coverage of the political opposition, as well as contentious issues such as alleged police abuse and official corruption. However, politicians have been known to harass media professionals over negative stories, and journalists can face physical attacks in the course of their work.
In February 2022, the head of news and current affairs at the private broadcaster EMTV, Sincha Dimara, was suspended over news reports about a controversial Australian businessman that drew criticism from State Enterprises Minister William Duma. Fellow EMTV journalists walked out of the newsroom in protest. Soon after she was suspended, the PNG Media Council issued a statement expressing support for Dimara. She was fired from EMTV in March.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is generally upheld. There have been reports of larger churches criticizing newer and smaller groups, and of anti-Muslim rhetoric that has accompanied the arrival of Muslim refugees, but no major infringements on religious liberty have been alleged in recent years.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected, though the police have at times violently suppressed student demonstrations on campus.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
There are no major constraints on the expression of personal views. However, a 2016 cybercrime law allows the prosecution of people who publish defamatory material or incite violence on social media, raising concerns that it could be misused to punish legitimate speech.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly. However, marches and demonstrations require 14 days’ notice and police approval, and authorities sometimes deny permits. At least four people were reportedly shot and killed by security forces during an election-related protest in August 2022.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
A number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in the country, including groups focused on human rights and environmental causes, as well as some that provide social services. Most are small and lack resources, but they are otherwise free of serious constraints on their activities.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Workers’ rights to strike, organize, and engage in collective bargaining are largely respected. However, the government has frequently imposed arbitration in labor disputes to avert strikes, and protections against antiunion discrimination are unevenly enforced. Most workers are employed in the informal sector and lack access to union protections.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||3.003 4.004|
While successive governments have exerted political pressure on the court system, the judiciary is generally independent. Judges are appointed by the largely apolitical Judicial and Legal Services Commission and cannot be removed arbitrarily. Laypeople sit on village courts to adjudicate minor offenses under customary and statutory law. In recent years, the higher courts have repeatedly demonstrated their impartiality by ruling against the government and its political interests, for instance when ordering Parliament to assemble and vote on no-confidence motions.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees of due process are poorly upheld. Arbitrary detention is relatively common, and opportunities to challenge such abuses are limited in practice. A shortage of trained judicial personnel is a key cause of lengthy detentions and trial delays. The police force is chronically underfunded, and officers have been accused of involvement in criminal activities such as drug and firearms trafficking and land theft.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1.001 4.004|
Law enforcement officials are frequently implicated in acts of brutality. Prison conditions are poor, and the correctional service is understaffed. Prison breaks are common. Lack of economic opportunities exacerbates social unrest, frequently resulting in violent clashes, injuries, and deaths.
Tribal violence and “payback” attacks are common in the Highlands Region. In July 2022, some 25 people were killed in tribal fighting in the Porgera area of Enga Province. A state of emergency had been declared for the area in May. According to the United Nations and local officials, an estimated 90,000 people were displaced by violence in the Highlands from May to September 2022.
Capital punishment was most recently reintroduced in 1991, though no executions have been carried out since 1954. In January 2022, Parliament voted to abolish the death penalty.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees equality regardless of race, tribe, religion, sex, and other categories, but various forms of discrimination are common in practice. Same-sex sexual relations are a criminal offense that can draw up to 14 years in prison, though the relevant laws are rarely enforced. There is some discrimination against people of Chinese origin; a growing Chinese business presence in the country has drawn resentment for allegedly disadvantaging other groups. Women face legal discrimination in employment in addition to societal biases. Allegations of sorcery have been used to target women for violence.
Australia long paid the PNG government to accept asylum seekers who arrived in Australian waters by boat, but as the program wound down in recent years, those who were not granted refugee status or did not agree to settle in PNG were left in limbo, living in difficult conditions. The Australian government formally ended its regional processing contract with PNG at the close of 2021, and the PNG government agreed to offer measures including citizenship and family reunification for any remaining asylum seekers who wished to reside in the country. While the Australian government was still reluctant to allow transfers to Australia, some of the asylum seekers have been sent to the United States as part of a deal between Canberra and Washington. Fewer than 100 of those sent to PNG under the defunct Australian program remained in the country in 2022.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
Freedom of movement is somewhat restricted in the Highlands; survivors of tribal violence are known to limit their domestic travel or go into hiding in the immediate aftermath of skirmishes and attacks. Travelers in Port Moresby are subject to roadblocks, where authorities check the registration of their vehicles.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
In PNG, 97 percent of the land area is theoretically under customary tenure, but Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs) have been used to facilitate land grabs by unscrupulous investors. In 2013, a government commission found that most active SABLs were illegal and recommended their cancellation. In 2017, then prime minister O’Neill claimed that all SABLs were canceled, but the government acknowledged in 2018 that most were still being contested in court. In January 2022, John Rosso, the lands and physical planning minister, said that of 70 outstanding SABLs identified by a Commission of Inquiry, 20 had been canceled, 30 had been recommended for cancellation, and another 20 were the subject of court proceedings filed by titleholders.
Women face disadvantages regarding property rights and inheritance, particularly under customary law.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
The law provides some protections for individual rights on personal status matters like marriage and divorce, but early or forced marriage remains a problem. Abortion is illegal except when necessary to save the life of a pregnant patient.
Legislation meant to combat widespread family violence and aid victims is poorly enforced. About two-thirds of partnered women have experienced physical abuse, according to multiple studies. According to an April 2022 report by a special parliamentary committee on gender-based violence, 56 percent of women and girls aged 15–49 have experienced some form of physical violence, and 28 percent have experienced sexual violence.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Legal safeguards against exploitative working conditions are weakly enforced, and frequent abuses in sectors including logging and mining have been reported. The US Labor Department has previously assembled evidence of child labor in the coffee, cocoa, palm oil, and rubber sectors, as well as in commercial sexual exploitation.
According to the US State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report, the PNG government initiated prosecutions against four alleged traffickers in 2022, but secured no convictions. The State Department also noted that corrupt officials were facilitating sex trafficking and forced labor.
On Papua New Guinea
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Global Freedom Score61 100 partly free