General elections began on Monday in Papua New Guinea, the country that occupies the eastern part of the island of New Guinea and some islands north of Australia. With a vote that will take place over about three weeks, voters in Papua will choose who will rule the country for the next five years, one of the most divided in the region, ethnically, politically, and in some cases. The roads are also one of the harshest.
These will be important outcomes not only for the future of nearly 9 million Papuans, but also for the balance of the South Pacific region, where significant tensions have persisted for some time due to the growing influence exercised by China.
Papua New Guinea was a colony administered partly by the German Empire and partly by the British Empire. It has been an independent country since 1975, when it ceased to be controlled by Australia, and is part of the Commonwealth, the group of countries that were part of the British Empire and which after independence maintained more or less formal relations with the Crown. English. It is one of the most populous countries among those in the South Pacific, made up mostly of small island states and archipelagos, and is also one of the most diverse: most of its inhabitants are of Melanesian origin and Christian religion and the official language of commerce is English, but there are many Indigenous tribes that live in remote areas of the country and speak more than 800 different languages.
Most of its territory is mountainous and the climate is tropical, with frequent and heavy rains practically all year round, especially from October to May. These characteristics mean that people living in remote areas live mostly thanks to subsistence farming, others thanks to forestry (i.e. forestry) and fishing. But since the 1970s, the country’s economy began to improve thanks to the discovery of deposits of gold, copper, natural gas and crude oil, which helped develop mining activities.
However, the rapid population growth observed above all between the 1960s and 1980s led to many problems, which often still exist: access to basic services, such as health or school services, is often not guaranteed, Unemployment and underemployment have exacerbated poverty, thus increasing tensions between different ethnic groups and crime, particularly in urban areas.
In the remote areas of Papua New Guinea, where most services are lacking, starting with roads, many communities still live organized as tribes and there are often episodes of violence linked to robberies and territorial disputes. As noted by several human rights organizations, one of the country’s biggest concerns is gender-based violence. According to a survey conducted by a parliamentary group, on average in Papua New Guinea, a woman is beaten every thirty seconds, in most cases by her husband or partner. In total, it is estimated that more than 1.5 million women experience gender-based violence each year.
There has not been a single woman in government for the past five years. Since 1975, only 7 women have held the position of minister.
Elections are also affected by the country’s major structural problems and are generally characterized by fraud, corruption, violence and intimidation, but above all by a significant lack of organization.
The polling operations of the past weeks (this year it goes from 4 to 22 July), as well as the counting operations, due to the lack of appropriate structures and logistical problems that make the organization of the elections complicated and costly: electoral and material materials. Operations workers are not so many, and they must have time to physically move from one region to another of the country, the area of which is slightly less than that of Spain; In addition, bad weather, lack of roads in different parts of remote areas, and an inefficient public transport network often complicate the lives of those who have to commute to vote.
Thousands of voters who would have the right to vote fail to do so because they do not find their names in the electoral rolls due to an incomplete and outdated electoral system; Others vote instead on behalf of other electors, evading controls. During the last public suffrage, in 2017, more than 200 people were killed due to the various ethnic or political tensions that emerged during the election campaign, during the polling phase or after the counting was completed: from May to today, at least 30 people were killed. They were martyred again for election-related reasons, according to sources quoted guardian.
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In the general elections that took place in these weeks, 2351 candidates (142 women) presented themselves, of which 118 people will occupy the seats of the unicameral parliament. Since there are more than 50 candidate parties, it is practically assumed that none of these parties will be able to obtain a majority: as in the past, after a vote, the parties with the most seats have to reach an agreement. To form a governing coalition, the leader of the coalition will be appointed prime minister. This phase is also expected to last a few weeks.
The most prominent candidates are the incumbent Prime Minister James Marabe, of the nationalist and centrist Bango Party, and his predecessor, Peter O’Neill, of the People’s National Congress (PNC), a populist party. Marab, a former finance minister and former PNC ally, was elected prime minister in May 2019 and replaced O’Neill, who resigned after several opposition protests over a multibillion-dollar gas deal signed with the company. France’s Total and ExxonMobil in the United States are mostly judged unfavorable to national interests.
In recent years, Marape has been able to introduce measures in favor of the mining sector, but not to improve services and living conditions for the population. Unemployment is rising and an already fragile health system is under more pressure since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. For these reasons, the PNC appears to have regained some consensus.
It also remains to be seen whether the future prime minister changes Papua New Guinea’s stance on foreign policy, which tends to be neutral, especially given that a few months ago the neighboring Solomon Islands signed a security agreement with China, which has long been working to strengthen the influence in the region.
Papua New Guinea maintains friendly relations with Australia, New Zealand and the United States, with which it has concluded various types of cooperation agreements (perhaps the most famous of which is the Manus Island Asylum Seeker Detention Center, which has been used by Australia since 2012 thanks to an agreement with the Papua government). Both Marape and O’Neill have said in the past that Papua New Guinea is willing to accept cooperation agreements with anyone, calling it “a friend of all and no enemy of anyone”.
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