Country in the southwest Pacific, comprising the eastern part of the island of New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and part of the Solomon Islands.
Government Papua New Guinea is a multiparty democracy, with a prime ministerial political executive. Under the 1975 constitution, the British monarch is the formal head of state, represented by a resident governor general who is nominated by parliament for a six-year term. Actual executive power is held by a prime minister, formally appointed by the governor general, but who is able to command a majority in the parliament, and who leads a cabinet of ministers. The National Parliament is a single-chamber legislature, comprising 111 members elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term, 91 representing local single-member district-level constituencies, and 20 are governors from the country's provinces. Although Papua New Guinea is not a federal state, its 20 provincial governments have substantial autonomy.
History New Guinea has been inhabited for at least 50,000 years, probably by people arriving from the east Indonesian islands. Agricultural economy dates back some 6,000 years. In the Western Highlands, a permanent system with drainage and garden tools was established 2,500 years ago. The sweet potato, introduced 1,200 years ago, became the staple crop of the highlands, the yam and taro being grown in lowland areas.
The first European to reach New Guinea was probably the Portuguese explorer Jorge de Menezes in about 1526, who named it ‘Ilhas dos Papuas’. It was visited by several Dutch traders in the 17th century, and by the Englishman William Dampier in 1700, who named the island of New Britain. French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville was in the area in 1768. The Dutch East India Company took control of the western half of the island, and in 1828 it became part of the Dutch East Indies. In 1884 the southeast was claimed by Britain and called Papua, the northeast by Germany and called German New Guinea. The British part, Papua, was transferred to Australia in 1905. The German part was occupied by Australia during World War I and after the war Australia was granted a League of Nations mandate and then a trusteeship over it. Papua became an External Territory of the Australian Commonwealth, although legally it remained a British possession.
Independence Freed from Japanese occupation in 1945, the two territories were combined into the Territory of Papua New Guinea, administered by Australia. After first achieving internal self-government as Papua New Guinea, it became fully independent within the Commonwealth in 1975.
The first prime minister after independence was Michael Somare, leader of the Papua New Guinea Party (PP). Despite allegations of incompetence, he held office until 1980. The lack of strong political party allegiances has led to instability of governments, with frequent changes of prime minister. Julius Chan, leader of the People's Progress Party (PPP), was prime minister 1980–82. Somare returned to power in 1982, but he lost a no-confidence motion in parliament in 1985 and was replaced by Paias Wingti, leader of the breakaway People's Democratic Movement. Wingti returned announced a more independent foreign policy of good relations with the USSR, USA, Japan, and China.
In 1988, Wingti lost a no-confidence vote and was replaced as prime minister by the former foreign minister and PP's new leader, Rabbie Namaliu, with Somare as foreign minister in a six-party coalition government. In October 1991 governor general Vincent Serei Eri was dismissed by Queen Elizabeth II after his refusal to remove deputy prime minister Ted Diro, who had been found guilty of corruption, from office. Wiwa Korowi was elected to replace Eri in November 1991. The 1994 elections were won by the PPP and Julius Chan became prime minister.
Bougainville separatist revolt 1989–98 Between 1989–97 a nine-year-long conflict between armed secessionist rebels and government troops on the mineral-rich island of Bougainville claimed 20,000 lives. Secessionist guerrillas were active on the island from 1988. In early 1989 they forced the closure of the island's Panguna copper and gold mine, which provided 40% of the country's export revenue. The government responded by imposing a state of emergency on Bougainville island in June 1989 and sending in troops.
The government began to withdraw its troops in March 1990. However, in May 1990 the secessionist Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) issued a unilateral declaration of independence. In response, the government imposed a blockade. Several unsuccessful attempts to achieve lasting peace failed until a ‘what was meant to be final agreement’ was signed in September 1994.
The continuing peace talks between BRA and the government were endangered by the murder in October 1996 of Theodore Miriung, prime minister of Bougainville's Transitional Government (BTG). In November 1996 Gerard Sinato was elected the new premier of the BTG. He called for tripartite talks between the national government, his administration, and BRA, led by Francis Ona, to negotiate an end to the eight-year-old guerrilla war.
In April 1998, a permanent truce with Bougainville secessionist rebels was signed, involving an amnesty for the secessionist rebels. Government troops withdrew from Bougainville in June 1998. In January 1999 a new interim Bougainville Reconciliation Government (BRG) was formed, replacing the Bougainville Transitional Government (BTG) established in 1995. Its joint heads were Joseph Kabui, a former rebel leader, and Gerard Sinato, the BTG leader. In May 2001, the secessionist BRA and the government-allied Bougainville Resistance Force (BRF) signed an agreement to surrender their weapons in the Rotokas mountains in Bougainville. In August 2001 the government signed a peace agreement with ex-combatants. A regional peace-monitoring force and a UN observer mission monitor the government. Bougainville gained autonomy in 2005 and an eventual referendum on independence was planned. In June 2008 Bougainville president Kabui died and was replaced later in the year by James Tanis, another ex-rebel leader.
Rioting and unrest in the capital in 1997 and 2001 In March 1997, Prime Minister Julius Chan, along with his deputy and defence minister, stepped down after rioting and looting in the capital, Port Moresby, and pressure from the army and governor-general, who objected to the government's recent £20-million hiring of British mercenaries to fight the protracted insurgency on the island of Bougainville. The June 1997 general election was won by Bill Skate, but he soon faced pressure to stand down, after allegations that he had links with violent gangs and that he was mismanaging the economy. In October 1998, the People's Progress Party (PPP), led by trade and industry minister Michael Nali, left the government to lead a campaign of opposition against Skate. In July 1999, Skate was ousted and replaced by Mekere Morauta, a former head of Papua New Guinea's Central Bank, who led a new coalition. He pledged to stabilize the currency and economy.
In March 2001, students protested in Port Moresby against economic reforms, and were joined by soldiers concerned by the plans to reduce troop numbers. In further marches in June 2001, soldiers in the capital, Port Moresby, opened fire on protesters demonstrating against International Monetary Fund (IMF) reforms, killing three people. Objectors to the reforms feared job losses if state-run enterprises were privatized.
Economic recovery After a slump 1989–90 caused by the closure of the Bougainville mine and falling world prices for its coffee and cocoa exports, Papua New Guinea enjoyed an economic boom, with gold production doubling 1990–92 as a result of the discovery of huge new deposits.
Droughts and frosts drastically reduced crop yields in much of the country in 1997, raising the possibility of widespread famine. According to the Papua New Guinea National Disaster and Emergency Services, about 400,000 people were at risk of starvation. The droughts and frosts are believed to be related to the ‘El Niño’ effect, which was causing adverse weather conditions in much of the Asia-Pacific region.
In 2000, Prime Minister Morauta, announced plans to privatize several large government corporations, including the Papua New Guinea Banking Corporation and the national airline, Air Niugini.
Somare back in power In August 2002, Michael Somare, leader of the National Alliance Party, became prime minister for a third time and 17 years after the end of his second term. The elections of 2002 were marred by violence, claiming 30 lives. Somare instituted spending cuts to address inflation following the 2000–02 recession. By 2007 the economy was growing at a rate of 6% a year, helped by increased mining activity. Nevertheless, poverty levels remained high, corruption was rife, and in 2006 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgraded its assessment status for the country to ‘least developed nation’.
Somare's coalition government was re-elected at the July 2007 general election.
The political crisis of 2011–12 The country plunged into political crisis in 2011–12, having two rival prime ministers for nearly a year.
The crisis began in April 2011 when Prime Minister Somare was suspended for two weeks over charges of misconduct 20 years earlier. His family announced in June 2011 that he was retiring from politics. In August 2011, the parliament elected Peter O'Neill, a businessman who had been finance minister under Somare, as the new prime minister. But a month later, Somare returned from Singapore, where he had gone for heart surgery, and claimed that was still prime minister. The majority in parliament backed O'Neill but the Supreme Court ruled that Somare be re-instated.
A stand-off ensued, with both O'Neill and Somare running parallel administrations, and in January 2012 soldiers mutinied in Port Moresby, demanding Somare's reinstatement. The situation was resolved at the June 2012 parliamentary elections, which were won by supporters of O'Neill, whom parliament endorsed as prime minister in August 2012.
O'Neill in power O'Neill made tackling the high levels of corruption his government's top priority and set up an anti-corruption task force in an attempt to reassure foreign investors. In July 2013, he also agreed with Australia that, in return for financial aid, Papua New Guinea would set up (on Manus Island) an offshore centre to process the asylum claims of refugees who reach Australia by boat.
Foreign relations Papua New Guinea has maintained close relations with Australia since independence, receiving substantial economic aid in return. Due to its relative size, it has established itself as a leader among the small island states of the South Pacific. It is a founder member of the South Pacific Forum and a leader, together with the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, of the Spearhead Group, set up in 1988 to preserve Melanesian cultural traditions. Relations with its western neighbour Indonesia have been strained due to the latter's treatment of Melanesians in Irian Jaya, the western part of New Guinea, where Indonesian troops have fought separatist guerrillas. In addition, the Indonesian government's ‘transmigration’ policy of resettling Javanese in Irian Jaya created more than 10,000 Melanesian refugees in Papua New Guinea. A Treaty of Mutual Respect, Friendship, and Cooperation was, however, signed by the two countries in 1986.
Pacific Islanders – Past and Present
Papua New Guinea Information Site
traditional customs, Papua New Guinea
Related Credo Articles
THE INDEPENDENT STATE of Papua New Guinea is located on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, with Indonesia comprising the western half...
Papua New Guinea’s population of 5.3 million people (July 2003 estimate) is among the most heterogeneous in the world because its mountainous...
Papua New Guinea is an independent nation in the Pacific, sharing the large island of New Guinea with the Indonesian states of Papua and West...