James Marape has been returned as Papua New Guinea’s prime minister for its 11th parliament after a fraught and violent election period that has run for roughly six weeks.
Marape – who became prime minister in 2019 after toppling his predecessor and former party leader, Peter O’Neill – was invited to form government by the governor general, after his Pangu Pati secured 36 seats and was able to strike deals with coalition partners to bring its numbers to more than 80.
O’Neill had hoped to reclaim the top job, but was left disappointed after only 14 members were declared for his rival People’s National Congress (PNC) party.
The new parliament sat for the first time on Tuesday, the counting of votes continuing in 11 seats, and Marape was voted despite as prime minister – 97 votes for and none against. O’Neill left the chamber before voting took place.
Speaking on Tuesday, Marape reassured Papua New Guinea that his party was “not for one region, not for one family, not for one person” but “belongs to this country”.
“Today, I want to give comfort to every Papua New Guinean wherever you are, as shown and reflected on the floor of parliament where 100% of members showed up to vote not just for me but for the mandate, collectively the coalition secured because we went to the elections as partners,” he said.
Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese issued his congratulations, tweeting: “Congratulations James Marape on your re-election as Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. The Australia-PNG partnership is special: we are neighbours, friends and family. Australia is committed to working with the PNG government to continue to deepen our comprehensive bilateral relationship and tackle shared regional challenges.”
O’Neill said he had left the chamber in protest at the fact that parliament had sat and decided on a prime minister while counting was still under way in some seats.
“I did not vote for Marape simply because I cannot support a leader not properly elected by the people in their electorates,” O’Neill said. “I cannot vote for what is wrong. I walked out and gave our party MPs the opportunity to vote on conscience.”
O’Neill had filed an urgent application seeking orders to prevent the parliament from sitting this week, arguing that for parliament to be called there has to be a declaration of all 118 seats. The supreme court refused to issue the orders, ruling there was no urgency in the application.
The election was plagued with violence, with 50 election-related deaths reported by the end of July. There were also reports of voter fraud, ballot boxes being destroyed and candidates taking over polling stations. Up to a million people were believed to have been disfranchised due to the electoral roll not being updated in a decade.
The new PNG parliament has female representation for the first time since 2017. Two women have been elected – central governor Rufina Peter and Rai Coast MP Kessy Sawang. They are only the eighth and ninth female MPs ever elected to parliament in PNG’s nearly 50-year history.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism