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Old 04-05-2003, 12:56 PM
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Papua New Guinea

General Information :

The mainland of Papua New Guinea together with its six hundred other islands (463 000 square kilometres) has a population of approximately 5.3 million. Most of the people are Melanesian, but some are Micronesian or Polynesian. There are over seven hundred language groups, reflecting the diverse origins of the people. English, Tok Pisin (Pidgin), and Motu (the lingua franca of the Papuan region) are the official languages.

The spectrum of Papua New Guinean society now ranges from traditional village-based life dependent on subsistence and small cash-crop agriculture, to modern urban life in the main cities of Port Moresby (capital), Lae, Madang, Wewak, Goroka, Mt Hagen, and Rabaul. Some 85 per cent of the population directly derive their livelihood from farming, and 15 per cent of the population live in urban areas. It is estimated that the population is growing at a rate of approximately 2.5 per cent per annum.

Political Overview :

System of Government :

The Head of State is HM Queen Elizabeth II, represented in Papua New Guinea by the Governor-General, Sir Silas Atopare. The National Parliament is a single chamber legislature elected for five year terms by universal suffrage in single constituency open or provincial electorates. The National Executive Council comprises the Prime Minister (who is appointed and dismissed by the Head of State, represented by the Governor-General, on the proposal of Parliament) and ministers (who are appointed and dismissed by the Head of State on the proposal of the Prime Minister). An independent judicial system comprises the Supreme Court and National Court, and local and village courts.

The system of government is thus one of responsible parliamentary democracy. As no one party has ever achieved an absolute majority in parliament and party alliances are volatile, loss of government by a vote of no confidence has been characteristic of Papua New Guinea politics since Independence. New laws covering the integrity of political parties may change this (see below).

Recent Political Developments :

Sir Michael Somare was elected Prime Minister on 5 August 2002. He enjoys the support of a broad coalition and his election to the position of PM was unopposed. Somare was Papua New Guinea's first Prime Minister in 1975 and served as Prime Minister again from 1982-87. Prime Minister Somare has recently identified continued economic reform as a top priority for his government.

Apart from the election of the new Somare government, there have been other important recent developments. The `Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates' is now in effect. This new law is designed to enhance political stability by outlawing the practice of MP's switching political allegiances after an election. It is also designed to provide proper funding for political parties and encourage female candidates. The law also provides for the implementation of a limited preferential voting system for future elections, including by-elections (the next general election is due in 2007).

Bougainville :

In 1997, the PNG Government and Bougainvillean officials reached agreement to end the lengthy secessioinist conflict on Bougainville and to establish a Truce Monitoring Group (which later became the Australia-led Peace Monitoring Group). On 30 August 2001, the Bougainville Peace Agreement was signed at Arawa, Bougainville. It provides a framework for disarmament and an autonomous Bougainville Government. (see separate section on the Bougainville Peace Process). Currently, weapons disposal is the main focus of the peace process, with over 1700 weapons contained to date. By the end of 2002, Australia will have contributed $100 million over five years towards development on Bougainville, as well as leading the four-nation Peace Monitoring Group since 1998.

Foreign Policy :

Membership of South Pacific regional organisations and participation in the wide range of island country arrangements have been an important aspect of PNG's foreign relations since before Independence. Papua New Guinea is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum and the South Pacific Commission, and regional sub-groupings such as the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP). PNG is also a member of the United Nations. Papua New Guinea's membership of APEC and the WTO has brought it into closer association with the major economies of the region and has provided a formal framework for movement towards recasting its domestic economic policies.

Papua New Guinea has emphasised its relations with the countries of East and South East Asia by, with ministers of successive governments visiting the region regularly. Indonesia, with which Papua New Guinea shares a land border, has been of key importance, with relations underpinned by a Treaty of Mutual Respect, Friendship and Co-operation.

Japan is also significant in Papua New Guinea's foreign relations, particularly as it is a major aid donor. A memorandum of understanding on regular high level consultations was agreed with China in 1992. Relations with Malaysia and the Philippines are long-standing, and those with Singapore have been developing in recent times. As elsewhere in the South Pacific, companies based in East and South East Asia have interests in some of Papua New Guinea's major resource industries, including logging and fisheries.

Papua New Guinea is an Associate Member of ASEAN, and signed a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with that organisation in 1989. Papua New Guinea is keen to upgrade that relationship. PNG is also a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

Papua New Guinea maintains official overseas representation in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Japan, China, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Belgium (Mission to the European Union - a major donor), and the United States, and to the United Nations in New York.
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