Papua New Guinea

Port Moresby

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans were present in the area now known as Papua New Guinea 60,000 years ago.

Modern history starts with the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese traders in the early 16th Century.

Trading with Australia took off in the 1800s and in September 1888 the south east part of the territory became British New Guinea; and then a part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1902. In 1905 the Papua Act placed the territory under the Australians administration and it became known as the Territory of Papua.

Meanwhile, in 1884 the Germans occupied the north east and the territory became known as German New Guinea.

In 1914 the Australians occupied German New Guinea and it remained under their control until 1920 when it assumed administration under a League of Nations mandate.

The situation remained stable until 1941 when the Japanese invaded West Papua, now part of Indonesia and then the territory of New Guinea. Fighting was fierce in World War Two between the Japanese who lost around 200,000 men and the Australians and Americans who lost around 7,000 each.

In 1945 the Japanese surrendered and in 1949 the Papua and New Guinea Act placed New Guinea under an international trustee system. In 1951 the first Legislative Council was established and in 1963 this was replaced by the House of Assembly.

In 1972 the name changed again to its modern name of Papua New Guinea and elections of that year saw Michael Somare become Chief Minister. The independence movement was in full swing by this time and on 1st December 1973 the country became self-governing and then on 16th September 1975 it gained full independence.

In 1977 Michael Somare and his Pangu Party were at the head of a winning coalition and he became the first Prime Minister of the independent state. By this time the name of the parliament had changed from the House of Assembly to the National Parliament.

From this point on the next few years saw general elections followed by votes of no confidence, MPs crossing the floor and new governments formed. In 1980 Michael Somare and his government were brought down in a vote of no confidence and a new prime minister, Sir Julius Chan was appointed.

In 1982 the Pangu Party increased its number of seats from 40 to 61 out of 109 seats in the National Parliament and Michael Somare became prime minister once more.

By 1985 another vote of confidence was lost and Paias Wingti led a five party coalition as prime minister. Wingti’s People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), a breakaway group from the Pangu Party won the election. In 1988 Wingti lost a confidence motion and Rabbie Namaliu became Prime Minister at the head of the Pangu Party.

This situation was to continue until the early 2000s. But meanwhile between 1989 and 1998 a civil war raged in the island of Bougainville (North Solomons) leading to a change in the way in which the provinces were ruled.

In 2001 a weary government introduced the Limited Preferential Vote system (LPV) a hybrid Alternative Vote (AV). It was to be used for the first time in the 2007 elections. In 2002, however, Michael Somare was back at the head of the National Alliance Party (NAP) and for the first time a government survived a full five year mandate.

In 2007 Michael Somare was re-elected prime minister, but in August 2011 after having been away for months due to illness a motion of no confidence was moved in his absence and won. The parliament decided to elect a new prime minister, Peter O’Neill of the People’s National Congress (PNC) on 2nd August 2011. On his return from sickness Michael Somare contested that he was still prime minister and the Supreme Court agreed with him. The army and parliament backed O’Neill and eventually O’Neill was recognised, but not before two police chiefs and army chiefs and parallel Cabinets had been appointed.

Elections between 23rd June and 6th July should resolve the situation, at least for now.

Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State.

The unicameral parliament or House of Assembly has 109 members. 89 members are elected from single member constituencies and 20 are elected by provinces. Members serve five year terms.

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Papua New Guinea at joint 136th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 28 (where 100 is least corrupt).