Papua New Guinea | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


A new Limited Preferential Voting system was introduced in Papua New Guinea (PNG) December 2003 which replaced the first-past-the-post system that critics had long alleged was open to bribery. Australia continued throughout the year to spearhead efforts, with the use of police and monetary assistance, to restore peace and order in PNG. Agreement was reached in October on a draft Bougainville constitution between the PNG national government and Bougainville province.

PNG, which consists of the eastern part of New Guinea and some 600 smaller islands, gained independence from Australia in 1975. In 1988, miners and landowners on Bougainville Island began guerrilla attacks against the Australian-owned Panguna copper mine, which provided 40 percent of the country's total export revenues. A ceasefire collapsed in 1996, and fighting resumed. A new peace treaty between the government and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army was signed in August 2001 to end a civil war that had claimed more than 10,000 lives and crippled the economy.

The last elections were held in June 2002 and April and May of 2003. The next election must be held no later than 2007. Prime Minister Michael Somare has been in office since August 2002. Of the 109 seats in the unicameral national parliament, 19 were won by the National Alliance Party of Somare, 14 by the United Resources Party, 13 by the People's Democratic Movement, 9 by the People's Progressive Party, 6 by the Papua and Niugini Union Party, 5 by the People's Action Party, 4 by the People's Labor Party, and 40 by others including independents.

Peace in Bougainville remains fragile, as Bougainville independence hard-liners announced just one day after the UN peace monitors left the country on July 1, 2003, that they would not participate in the peace process. The UN Observer Mission to Bougainville had asked the PNG government to hold elections for self-rule in Bougainville before the end of 2004. In October, agreement on a draft Bougainville constitution between the PNG national government and the Bougainville province was an important step toward elections, which look likely to occur in 2005.

The first Australian Federal Police officers arrived in Port Moresby in December 2003 to provide training to local law enforcement. Australia pledged $325 million over five years to tackle crime and unrest in "hot spots" in the country, namely, Port Moresby, Mt. Hagen, Bougainville, and Lae. Australia initially wanted immunity for its police officers, but strong opposition from PNG officials and public opinion forced it to back down. Canberra committed another $628 million and another police contingent for Bougainville. Australian police officers were expected to arrive in Bougainville before the end of 2004 to help restore law and order in the first phase of the war-torn region's recovery process. PNG police reported that in 2003, 158 murders occurred in the capital - the highest number recorded ever. About 300 Australian police and civil servants were planned for deployment to PNG to take up operational jobs to boost law and order and good governance.

A new Limited Preferential Voting system was introduced in December 2003. The system, which replaces the first-past-the-post system, allows voters to rank three preferred candidates. Critics had long seen the older system as being open to bribery. The new system was used in a by-election in Abau district. Dr. Puka Temu, a former secretary for health and a member of the ruling National Alliance party of Prime Minister Michael Somare, was elected. Election observers said less than 2 percent of the ballots were spoiled - a dramatic improvement from previous years. In October, nine persons, including poll officials, were arrested for voter fraud in an election for a new parliament representative for Port Moresby. Prosecution of the alleged offenders offered hope of improved efforts to promote fair and free elections. A constitutional amendment to extend the grace period between no-confidence votes from the current 18 months to 36 months was twice defeated.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of PNG can change their government democratically. Voters elect a unicameral parliament with 109 members from all 19 provinces and the National Capital District. The last general election was held in June 2002, resulting in a coalition government headed by Prime Minister Michael Somare. PNG is a member of the Commonwealth, and Queen Elizabeth II is represented by a governor-general elected by the PNG parliament. Sir Paulias Matane was sworn in as the new governor-general in June 2004. The major political parties are the National Alliance of Prime Minister Somare, the United Resources Party, the People's Democratic Movement and the People's Progressive Party. However, association with political parties is fluid.

Papua New Guinea was ranked 102 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index. Official corruption and abuses of power are significant hurdles to attracting investment and economic growth. Authorities have yet to push beyond political rhetoric and implement real reforms to increase transparency and strengthen the rule of law.

Freedom of speech is generally respected. Of the two weekly papers, one is published in English and one in Tok Pisin (Melanesian pidgin), the national lingua franca. There are two major daily newspapers and several other smaller local weekly and monthly publications. The government operates two FM radio stations and one AM radio station, as well as a television station. Several radio stations and two television stations are operated by private entities. Foreign newspapers are available, as are radio and television broadcasts from Australia and other countries. The media provide independent coverage and report on controversial issues such as alleged abuses by police, cases of alleged corruption by government officials, and the views of the political opposition. During 2004, there were concerns that media freedom was threatened when the government cautioned against the publication and broadcast of any "negative" comments about the country. There are no government controls on access to the Internet; however, usage is low at 13.7 persons per 1,000, according to 2002 data of the International Telecommunications Union. The main constraints are high cost and connectivity outside the capital.

The government generally respects freedom of religion. The perceived threat to media freedom applies to academics, as well as journalists, for their writing on the economy and the government.

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respects this right in practice. However, the government continues to restrict freedom of assembly in the form of marches and demonstrations, which require a 14-day advance notice and police approval. In 2001, police fired on student demonstrators in Port Moresby, killing 4 and injuring 20 persons. The government recognizes workers' right to strike, organize and engage in collective bargaining.

The judiciary is independent, and the legal system is based on English common law. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal and has original jurisdiction on constitutional matters. The National Court hears most cases and appeals from the lower district courts established at the provincial level. There are also village courts, which are headed by lay persons, to adjudicate minor offenses under both customary and statutory law. The government increased the number of full-time judges in 2002 and took steps to expand training of the judiciary.

Police and judicial reforms are much needed. Law enforcement officials have been implicated in unlawful killings, use of excessive force in arresting and interrogating suspects, and conducting excessively punitive and violent raids. There was little progress in cutting long delays for court hearings and improving prison conditions. Prison conditions are poor and international observers did not report any significant improvement. The country maintains ground, naval, air and special operations forces. Control and effectiveness of the military are complicated by lack of resources for training and equipment, low morale, low pay, corruption and disciplinary issues. In 2001, some officers staged a mutiny when plans to downsize the military were leaked. In the past several years, an Australian-led multinational force has downsized the PNG army and offered training to improve capacity and morale.

Violence between native tribes is a serious problem rooted in a cultural tradition of revenge for perceived wrongs. Lack of police enforcement and the increased availability of guns have exacerbated this problem. Attacks on Chinese nationals and their businesses were reported in the past year in connection with a police crackdown on the operation of horse racing machines and on illegal immigration. In several cases, the police had allegedly led or participated in lootings of Chinese-owned businesses.

Discrimination and violence against women and children are serious problems. Domestic violence is punishable by law, but prosecutions are rare as police commonly treat it as a private matter and family pressure and fear of reprisal discourage victims from pressing charges. Critics added that polygamy and the custom of paying a bride price reinforce the view that women are property. Prime Minister Somare voiced support of the death penalty for men convicted of gang rape.