Freedom in the World
Papua New Guinea
Freedom in the World Scores
Papua New Guinea’s political rights ratings improved from 4 to 3 because there is robust competition among political parties, which may form freely and have repeatedly risen to power by winning credible elections.
Papua New Guinea has a reasonably open democratic system, though corruption among public officials and a lack of will to address it remain serious problems. The country is home to a relatively free media. Controversy persists over the presence of an Australian-run center for asylum seekers, which has faced criticism for poor conditions. A 2005 agreement ended a civil war in Bougainville and provided for an independence referendum now expected in 2019, though the current authorities have indicated that they oppose Bougainville’s secession.
- In June, police fired on student protesters in Port Moresby as the students prepared to march to the parliament to call for Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s resignation. Police said 23 people were injured.
- In July, O’Neill easily survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote.
- In August, O’Neill announced a significant hike in the nomination fee for candidates contesting the 2017 legislative elections. Critics said the increased fee, ostensibly meant to support the operations of the Electoral Commission, would exclude candidates who could not afford to pay it.
- In April, the Supreme Court ruled an Australian-run facility for asylum seekers unconstitutional, saying its residents were held there against their will, thus violating their personal liberty. The facility, which is located on Manus Island and has faced criticism for poor conditions within, remained open at year’s end.
In 2016, Prime Minister O’Neill fended off widespread criticism over longstanding corruption allegations that involved millions of dollars’ worth of public funds allegedly paid out to a private law firm. He easily survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote in July, with 21 lawmakers voting for his removal and 85 voting in his favor. The vote came after a June incident at a campus of the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, in which police had opened fire on students as they prepared to march to the parliament to call for O’Neill’s resignation; police said 23 people were injured. Transport workers also took strike actions during the year to protest O’Neill’s continued leadership.
In August, O’Neill announced a hike in the nomination fee for candidates contesting the 2017 legislative elections to 10,000 kina ($3,150), a substantial increase from the previous rate of 2,000 kina ($630). The fee increase was purportedly aimed at filling a gap in funding for the Electoral Commission, but critics said it would effectively reduce the number of candidates by excluding ones that could not afford to pay it.
Pervasive corruption is the biggest hindrance to development, and the country’s anticorruption bureaucracies have been subject to political interference. Plans to establish a new Independent Commission against Corruption had not been realized at the end of 2016. A previous anticorruption body known as Taskforce Sweep was eventually defunded after bringing corruption claims against O’Neill.
Controversy persists over the country’s agreement with Australia regarding asylum seekers, in which migrants from third-party countries that reach Australia are sent to an Australian-run detention center on Manus Island while their asylum applications are processed. The Supreme Court ruled the Manus Island center unconstitutional in April 2016, saying its residents were held there against their will, thus violating their personal liberty. It issued an order that Papua New Guinea and Australia work to relocate the asylum seekers held there, but the center remained operational at year’s end. In December, asylum seekers temporarily seized control of sections of the facility following the death of a 27-year-old Sudanese detainee they said had been denied adequate medical care.
O’Neill has indicated that he opposes the secession of Bougainville from Papua New Guinea, and that he views the planned 2019 independence referendum as nonbinding, with any vote for independence subject to approval by the country’s parliament.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Papua New Guinea, see Freedom in the World 2016.