Freedom in the World 2017 - Papua New Guinea

Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

Ratings Change:

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.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • 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.
Executive Summary: 

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. 

Political Rights

Political Rights 26 / 40 (+3)

A. Electoral Process 9 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 13 / 16 (+3)

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 4 / 12

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 38 / 60 (+2)

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 13 / 16 (+1)

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 9 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 7 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 9 / 16 (+1)

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

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.