Troubles and Puzzles: The 2022 General Elections in Papua New Guinea

Originally published in The Journal of Pacific History 

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At least a year prior to the 2022 national general elections in Papua New Guinea (PNG), commentators were voicing concerns about the upcoming polls.1 Elections in 2017 had been fraught, and it was evident by 2021 that little effort had been made to address previous issues or to adequately prepare for 2022. After a series of delays, the 2022 elections were eventually held in July and August.2 As predicted, they were beset by problems, many of them familiar. These issues were serious and significant, yet the full story of the 2022 general elections was not solely a tale of electoral failure. In parts of the country the elections were deeply flawed, but in other places they were conducted reasonably well. Politically, the elections produced results that neither commentators nor, apparently, candidates predicted in advance. Most strikingly, nearly two-thirds of incumbent MPs who defended their seats were re-elected – by far the highest incumbent survival rate in PNG’s post-independence history.3 In addition, candidates standing under the banner of the Papua and Niugini Union Party (PANGU) won 33 per cent of electorates. This made PANGU the most successful party since 1982.4 In this paper we describe the 2022 elections in detail. We start by providing background before covering the lead up to the elections. Then we describe the 2022 elections themselves, and their procedural weaknesses and strengths. After that, we examine the results of the elections, paying particular attention to the performance of women, incumbent re-election rates, and party performance. In the final section of the paper, we discuss the ramifications of the 2022 elections and what they portend for PNG’s democratic future.


PNG held its first general elections as an independent nation in 1977. It has held elections at five-yearly intervals ever since. From 1977 until just after the 2002 general elections, it held elections using a single member district plurality voting system. It subsequently shifted to limited preferential voting (LPV), in which voters rank their three most preferred candidates. In national elections, voters vote for their open electorate MP (the MP representing their district) and for their provincial MP, who normally also becomes their provincial governor. The country has a unicameral parliament in which electorate MPs, as well as provincial MPs, sit.5

Thanks to the country’s geography and the potential for electoral competition to interact with other issues such as clan conflicts, elections have never been easy to run in PNG.6 However, compared with what was to come in their wake, the earliest post-independence elections were mostly trouble free. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s electoral quality deteriorated, culminating in the disastrous elections of 2002, which occurred during a period of political and economic strife, and which were marred by violence and serious malpractice.7 The problems of 2002 led to a concerted effort by the PNG government and the international community to improve electoral quality and, as a result, the 2007 elections suffered fewer issues.8 However, electoral quality began to deteriorate again in 2012, and the 2017 elections were blighted by procedural problems as well as large-scale violence in parts of the Highlands region.9

The aftermath of 2017 should have seen a concerted effort to improve elections in 2022. However, PNG’s political economy is not conducive to this type of work. When they are free to choose who to vote for, most voters in PNG do not vote on national issues; rather, they vote in search of direct assistance. This is reasonable given voters’ needs, but it incentivizes MPs to focus on providing resources to their supporters instead of attending to national problems. As elections are a national problem, politicians do not normally prioritize electoral preparation or fund it adequately.10To make matters worse, prior to the 2022 elections, the natural resource boom had ended and the years after 2017 were ones of sluggish economic performance and rapidly rising government debt.11 Covid-19 brought additional economic and fiscal challenges. As a result, a range of competing demands existed for limited government revenue.12

Preparing for 2022

Ideally, preparation for elections should occur throughout the electoral cycle – the period between elections. In PNG, however, an ongoing issue has been insufficient preparation in early stages of the cycle and a subsequent race at the end to get elections ready.13 The 2022 election clearly suffered from this problem. Little meaningful planning occurred prior to the year of the election itself, and one of the most time-consuming aspects of electoral planning – roll preparation – was left too late, owing to the government’s failure to fund the electoral commission. As a result, the roll was inaccurate and only completed in May 2022.14

At first, it seemed as if an increase in deaths and illness from Covid-19 might add to the suite of electoral challenges confronting the country.15 However, by the time the election occurred, the apparently less virulent Omicron strain was dominant in the country, and direct medical consequences – in the form of increased hospitalizations or deaths – for the elections were minimal, even if, as already noted, the economic costs of the pandemic and their impact on government revenue impeded electoral preparation.

Covid-19 was not the only pre-election worry that failed to materialize. For a time, it appeared as if the electoral commission was going to introduce biometric voting technology and change the process of ballot counting so that first-preference votes were counted at polling stations instead of district and regional counting centres. These changes were ostensibly to be made in the name of improving electoral quality.16 However, internationally, biometric voting technology has a mixed track record including some spectacular failures in countries where technological aspirations have outpaced electoral capacity.17 Meanwhile, shifting first-preference ballot counting to polling stations would have involved a major change to the one aspect of elections in PNG that has tended to work quite well.18 It would have also made securely counting ballot papers considerably harder. In the end, however, neither change was introduced. Insufficient funding put paid to biometric technologies. And, presumably, the sheer practical challenge of decentralized ballot counting caused the plan to be shelved quietly at some point. In the end, ballots were counted in the usual manner in district and provincial capitals.

One major change did take place prior to the 2022 election. In early 2022, the Electoral Boundaries Commission recommended redistricting occur. Such recommendations from the Boundaries Commission are not unusual. Yet, in the past, parliaments have usually failed to accept changes recommended by the Boundaries Commission. However, in March 2022, just months prior to the planned dates for the election, and for only the second time in PNG’s post-independence history, the country’s parliament accepted the commission’s proposed changes to electoral boundaries. The redistricting involved splitting seven electorates in two, creating seven additional electorates in the process.19 PNG has had a longstanding problem with malapportionment, and the case for redistricting is strong.20 However, the 2022 changes did little to reduce malapportionment.21 Indeed, some of the changes appeared very hard to explain on the basis of electorate size.22Merits aside, the changes to electorate boundaries presented a major practical challenge for the electoral commission just months before the election. Not only did the electoral commission have to remap the newly divided electorates, assign wards and households to the new electorates in the roll, and reallocate polling stations, but because the redistricting was agreed to after ballot papers had been printed, the electoral commission also had to destroy and reprint ballot papers for the affected constituencies.23 Although, with the assistance of Australian aid funding, the ballot papers were ultimately reprinted, the need to print them and prepare the new electorates, along with other issues such as the roll, contributed to electoral delays.24

The electoral process

Challenges were plentiful in the lead up to the 2022 election. But, in some instances, such as the reprinted ballot papers, they were ultimately overcome. And, although the election was delayed, it did eventually go ahead. However, the quality of the electoral process when the election finally occurred was very mixed.

Serious issues were present. The most dramatic of these was electoral violence. It is estimated that at least 50 people were killed and a much larger number of people, possibly in the thousands, had to flee their homes during the electoral period.25 Not all of the violence stemmed solely from the election. In some instances, the election was simply the spark that reignited pre-existing tribal conflicts. In other instances, the election, and the demands it placed on security services, provided groups with an opportunity to settle pre-existing, non-election-related, scores. However, much of the violence was directly election related.

Notably, in 2022, violence and acts such as the burning of counting centres occurred outside of the Highlands region, which had been the focal point for these types of issues in previous elections.26 Violence was still at its worst in parts of the Highlands in 2022. But it was also more widespread, even if voting and counting still took place peacefully in much of the country.

The same pattern of spatial variation could be found with regard to other, less dramatic but still serious, electoral issues. Voter intimidation, block voting (where someone fills out ballots en masse for a polling station, village, or clan), polling irregularities, and problems counting ballots were noted in many parts of the country by observers participating in the one comprehensive electoral study to have been released to date, that of Transparency International.27 However, while they were present in much of the country, problems of this nature were clearly at their worst in the Highlands.28

Such internal diversity is not cause for complacency. The extent of coercion, intimidation, and violence in some parts of the Highlands was such that elections in those locations were not in any meaningful way democratic.29 And the spread of serious electoral problems is worrying. What is more, the National Electoral Commission, which has the power to fail elections in electorates where problems are acute and mandate that elections be re-held, showed no inclination to do so in 2022.30 (One electorate’s election was failed in 2022 after it did not return results by the required deadline. This occurred automatically when deadlines were not met, however, and did not involve a decision from the electoral commission.) Such unwillingness on the electoral commission’s behalf to intervene provides little incentive for candidates to improve their conduct in future elections.

Nevertheless, the diversity of electoral quality in Papua New Guinea is worth emphasizing. In much of PNG in 2022, despite inadequate funding and poor preparation, the elections were free of major problems. On the basis of newspaper reporting and existing observer reports, it is clear that there were issues everywhere. But, in many places, provincial officials and communities often did a reasonable job of running elections peacefully, on time, and in broad accordance with the law despite limited funding and infrastructure.31

For the practically inclined, this is encouraging. Improving future elections will not be easy, but the fact that some of the worst problems are mostly confined to particular places will hopefully make the national task of building better elections less challenging.

For social scientists, the variation in quality of elections between different parts of the country raises an interesting question: Why? Previous research looking at this has contended that part of the answer is norms: if violence has normally marred elections in a particular place in the past, candidates, supporters, and voters are more likely to anticipate it occurring in the current election and, therefore, more likely to make use of it themselves.32

Community cohesion, which varies throughout the country, also has an impact on electoral quality, albeit an ambiguous one. One of the authors of this paper witnessed the 2017 elections in Morobe province. In some polling stations, well-functioning communities helped electoral officials and assisted in maintaining order. In other communities, where social cohesion was low, large crowds of voters and supporters often quickly overwhelmed polling officials, and rules were abandoned. In this case, where community cohesion existed, it helped improve electoral quality. On the other hand, in parts of the Highlands, cohesion within villages or clans can lead to the expectation that individuals will vote for their community’s candidate, undermining individual choice and, at times, contributing to violence.33

Finally, provincial capacity is an important source in the variation in electoral quality. Many of the practical tasks required to actually run elections fall to provincial officials.34 The capacity of provincial governments varies around PNG, as does the capacity of officials involved in elections. Some provinces can run elections effectively with little national support, others are either under-resourced or hampered by local political pressure.35 This further contributes to varying electoral quality.

Although electoral quality differed considerably across PNG in 2022, two issues appear to have been present almost everywhere. The first was problems with the electoral roll. At the time of writing, the national electoral commission has not released regional, provincial, or electorate-level data on the number of people enrolled in 2022, so it is hard to systematically look at roll figures and test for issues such as roll inflation.36 However, even in the absence of roll numbers, it is clear from observer reports that the 2022 roll was very inaccurate.37 This led to legitimate voters being disenfranchized and other voters being able to vote more than once. The roll is used in different ways in different parts of the country – sometimes it is carefully followed, sometimes it does nothing more than determine the number of ballot papers sent to individual polling stations. As a result, the specific effects of the inaccurate roll varied.38 However, the underlying issue, a roll that did not accurately list the names of eligible voters, was present in much of the country and was a source of anger and frustration in many places.39The second issue present in most parts of the country was vote buying.40 Vote buying is hardly unique to PNG, and there is no evidence yet that vote buying was worse in 2022 than in 2017. However, there is no disputing that in much of the country, despite being illegal, vote buying was present in 2022.41 One observer from Papua New Guinea’s National Research Institute characterized the electoral contest in the electorate they were in as, ‘Money, Money, Money and Mr. Money’.42

Electoral competition

If, prior to the election, inadequate electoral preparation and an under-funded electoral commission worried commentators, there was no sign that they were deterring aspiring MPs from contesting the election. In the first week of July, the electoral commission released the names of all those candidates who had enrolled for the election. In total, 3619 candidates contested the 2022 election.43 Figure 1 shows the total number of candidates over time standing in elections in PNG. Because electorate numbers increased in 2022, the chart also shows the mean number of candidates per electorate.44

Figure 1. Total candidates and mean candidates per electorate in PNG elections.

Figure 1. Total candidates and mean candidates per electorate in PNG elections.


For many years candidate numbers rose rapidly. However, as the chart shows, this trend effectively came to an end in 2012. When one takes the growth of electorates into account, the mean number of candidates per electorate was slightly lower in 2022 than in 2012. Nevertheless, 3619 was still a lot of candidates spread over just 118 seats. (Only 1514 candidates stood in Australia’s 2019 House and Senate elections, where a total of 227 seats were up for grabs.45)

As is always the case, candidate numbers varied considerably between electorates in 2022: 76 and 75 candidates stood in the two electorates with the most candidates (Moresby North East Open and Chimbu Provincial, respectively); 8 and 6 candidates stood in the two electorates with the fewest candidates (Moresby South and Bougainville Provincial).

Political parties exist in PNG. Indeed, some of the parties present at independence were present in 2022, or at least shared the same names. However, parties play a limited role in PNG’s electoral politics. Party policy platforms are not clearly different. Political loyalty is limited and politicians switch parties frequently.46 A limited role, however, is not the same as no role entirely. Parties are used as political vessels of convenience by powerful politicians. And the parties of powerful politicians provide promising candidates with electoral funding. Parties also play an important role in forming the building blocks of governing coalitions in parliament, even if such coalitions are weakly bound.47

In total, 51 parties stood a total of 1308 candidates in the 2022 elections – the highest ever number of parties contesting. Even so, the majority of candidates – 2317 – did not stand with party backing. Most of the parties that stood candidates were small, backing fewer than 50 candidates.48 Table 1 shows the five parties backing the most candidates and the numbers of candidates each party supported.

Table 1. List of parties standing more than 50 candidates in 2022.

Electoral outcomes

One aspect of the results of the 2022 election – outcomes for women candidates – will have been disappointing to those hoping for signs of systematic political change in PNG. Figure 2 shows trends in numbers of female candidates and numbers of successful candidates from independence until 2022.49

Figure 2. Women candidates and women MPs.

Figure 2. Women candidates and women MPs.


As Figure 2 shows, the number of women candidates appears to have fallen slightly in 2022.50 There has, however, been a clear upward trend in women candidates since the early 1990s. This has not been reflected in the number of women MPs. Two women MPs were elected in 2022, which is two more than in 2017. Yet, it is less than the number of women in the 1977 parliament. Although numbers of women MPs fluctuate from election to election in PNG, there is no obvious trend over time.51 Given this, the election of anything more than a handful of women in 2022 would have been a major surprise. The election of two women reflects major achievements for the individuals involved. It does not, however, indicate any broader change in this area.

Other aspects of the 2022 election did produce surprising changes from existing patterns though – results that raise interesting questions about the changing nature of electoral politics in PNG. The most dramatic of these was the rise in the share of sitting MPs who successfully defended their seats in the 2022 election. On average, since independence, 45 per cent of MPs who have defended their seats have done so successfully. However, as can be seen in Figure 3, in 2022 an unprecedented 64 per cent of incumbents won their seats back.

Figure 3. Incumbent re-election rates.

Figure 3. Incumbent re-election rates.


The one other major deviation in re-election rates from the long-run average occurred in 2002. In that year an unprecedented number of MPs lost their seats. The 2002 change was easily explicable: the elections occurred in a time of economic and political trouble, and an unhappy electorate punished MPs at the ballot box.52 It is less obvious what caused the high incumbent return rate of 2022. Economic times were not particularly kind, and political governance was not particularly good. Redistricting meant that as many as seven incumbent MPs could have benefitted from standing in a situation where they got to choose which part of their old electorate they contested. In the event though, only five of the seven defended their seats and one of these seats failed to return a result. As a result, only 3 per cent of seats were affected by the changes to electorate boundaries – too few to explain the dramatic rise in incumbent success rates.

One possible explanation for the high incumbent re-election rate in 2022 is electoral malpractice. There are two reasons for thinking, however, that malpractice was not the main reason why so many sitting MPs were re-elected. First, the malpractice involved would have had to be novel in some important way: malpractice has been a major problem in other recent elections in PNG too, yet it has not prevented low re-election rates. For electoral malpractice to have been the source of high re-election rates in 2022, something new would have had to have taken place – some form of cheating that provided an advantage to incumbents in a way that had not been present previously. There is no evidence of this, either from news reporting, or from observer reports.53

Also, while incumbent victory rates were elevated in much of the country, as can be seen in Figure 4, they remained low in the Highlands region.

Figure 4. Incumbent re-election rates by region.

Figure 4. Incumbent re-election rates by region.


The Highlands is home to James Marape, the prime minister before and after the election. It is also home to many of the MPs in his PANGU party. In addition, the Highlands was, as we have described, the part of the country where electoral quality was at its worst. Yet in the Highlands, only 45 per cent of contesting incumbents were re-elected. This is in line with the Highlands average across the 2007, 2012, and 2017 elections of 43 per cent. If fraud were the explanation for high incumbent re-election rates in 2022, its effect somehow bypassed the Highlands, the part of the country where electoral issues were most acute. This seems like an unlikely combination.

These facts do not completely rule out the possibility that electoral malfeasance was the source of high incumbent re-election rates in 2022. However, they do not fit well with cheating being the main explanation. One other possible explanation stems from District Service Improvement Program funds (DSIP) and their provincial equivalent, Provincial Service Improvement Program funds (PSIP). These are funds made available to MPs and provincial governors to spend within their electorates or provinces. In theory, the funds are governed by District Development Authorities and provincial governments. However, in practice, MPs and governors have considerable control over spending. In neighbouring Solomon Islands, a rapid rise in the value of similar funds led to incumbent MPs being routinely re-elected in a country which previously had very low re-election rates.54 In PNG’s case, however, while MP funds have risen since the turn of the millennium, they were actually lower in real terms across the 2017–22 term than in the previous term.55 DSIP and PSIP funds did not rise prior to the 2022 elections in a manner that might explain the sudden rise in MP re-election rates.

One explanation for high re-election rates involving DSIP and PSIP funds that has been suggested to us is that MPs are simply becoming more adept at using these funds in an electorally advantageous manner. This is possible, but it begs the question of why MPs have suddenly become so much better at using these funds, rather than the learning occurring steadily over time and being associated with a slow rise in incumbent re-election rates across elections. Another explanation we have heard is that District Development Authorities are now, supposedly, better functioning, which may have enabled MPs in open seats to spend DSIP funding more effectively. This is an interesting explanation. But incumbent re-election rates also rose rapidly in provincial seats in 2022, something that cannot be explained by better-performing District Development Authorities.

One final puzzling aspect of the increase in re-election rates in 2022 stems from the relationship between candidate numbers and incumbent re-election rates first noted by political scientist David Hegarty in the 1980s.56 In general, in elections in PNG, as well as in neighbouring Solomon Islands, there has been a clear negative correlation between candidate numbers and the probability that incumbent MPs will be re-elected. When fewer candidates stand, MPs are more likely to be re-elected. This relationship stems in part from potential candidates deciding not to stand when they think the incumbent in their seat is strong and likely to be re-elected.57 In Solomon Islands, in the 2014 election, when incumbent re-election rates rose significantly, the rise was accompanied by a 12 per cent fall in candidate numbers – a rise that would be expected based on this relationship.58 In PNG, however, as we showed in Figure 1, candidate numbers did not drop dramatically in 2022 – they actually rose slightly.

Similarly, in PNG, at the individual electorate level, as we show in detail in Appendix I, while there is generally a clear relationship between changes in candidate numbers and the probability of incumbents being re-elected (increases in candidate numbers are associated with decreases in the probability of incumbent re-election), and while this relationship was present in the 2017 general election, the relationship did not exist in 2022. Unlike in Solomon Islands, or in PNG in 2017, the changed ability of incumbents to win re-election in 2022 did not appear to have been something that most potential candidates foresaw. Candidates contested the 2022 election in typically high numbers, unaware that the odds of defeating the sitting MP had dropped markedly.

One final change in election results in 2022 is the share of seats won by MPs from the largest party in the parliament (see Figure 5).59 PANGU, the party of Prime Minister Marape emerged from the election with the highest number of MPs of any party immediately post-election since 1982. PANGU’s 33 per cent contrasts with the mean from 1977 to 2017 of 25 per cent.

Figure 5. Share of seats won by MPs from the largest party in parliament.

Figure 5. Share of seats won by MPs from the largest party in parliament.


Superficially, this change looks suspicious and, indeed, the performance of PANGU was the source of accusations of election rigging online.60 However, a more careful look at the chart also shows that the increase in 2022 was simply the continuation of a trend that has existed since 1997. The post-1997 increase itself appears to be a result of the introduction of the Organic Law on Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPAC). As University of Papua New Guinea Political Scientist Russel Yangin has written in his analysis of the trend:

The answer is to do with section 63 of OLIPPAC (the amended 2003 legislation). Section 63 states that the registered political party with the most elected candidates after each election will be invited to form government. This doesn’t guarantee that the party will succeed in pulling together a governing coalition, but it does give that party an important first mover advantage when government is formed. As a result, powerful politicians have a strong incentive to invite strong candidates to join their parties at election time.61In addition, larger parties are more likely to end up at the heart of government, and their members are more likely to be awarded ministerial roles, providing competitive candidates with a good reason to side with strong parties.62 In particular, because the prime minister’s party typically does best in elections, there is an incentive for MPs to join it. Combined, these factors have boosted the electoral strength of the top party in recent elections, even as they have done little to build parties that are ideologically coherent, or that are organizationally strong.63

Whither political governance in Papua New Guinea

All running to schedule, PNG’s next elections will occur in 2027. Two key sets of questions hang over the country’s electoral politics between now and then. The first concerns electoral quality. Credible figures are already claiming that the 2022 elections were the country’s worst ever.64 This can be debated: the elections of 2002 and 2017 were also very troubled. What is not in dispute, however, is that there were grave flaws in the way the 2022 elections were run.

Some of the problems – like the roll – were widespread, other problems – such as violence – were more geographically limited, albeit spreading. Taken together, the problems speak of an electoral process that is struggling. If it does not improve, at best, future elections will be troubled in the way 2022 was. And matters could become worse: violence might spread, while public commitment to democracy might wane. The need for action to improve electoral quality in PNG is clear. The question at this point is whether such action will occur. Here there are some encouraging signs. The country’s political elite do seem to be paying some attention to the problems of 2022. A parliamentary election review committee, which includes senior politicians such as Alan Bird and Sir Puka Temu, as well as seven other MPs, has been established.65 This is suggestive of at least some domestic political desire to improve electoral quality. However, it is unclear whether political interest will be maintained once the usual jockeying for power resumes during the electoral term. Also, it is unclear whether resourcing the electoral commission will ever become the spending priority it needs to be if issues such as roll problems are to be resolved. As always, there is no shortage of other candidates for limited government funds.66

If electoral quality is to be improved, the international community, and particularly the government of Australia, PNG’s largest aid donor, will also need to assist domestic efforts financially and, quite probably, pressure PNG’s politicians into committing to electoral improvements. International actors are not omnipotent. They cannot compel the government of PNG, but they could proactively involve themselves in the task of improving electoral quality. Whether this will occur is unclear. The Commonwealth Observation mission released a strongly worded statement about problems with the roll in 2022.67 On the other hand, no senior politicians in the Australian government have offered any comments about electoral issues to date, suggesting that – at a political level – Australia views other concerns, such as geopolitical struggles with China, as more important.68

PNG’s next elections are still four years away. Completely solving all of PNG’s electoral problems will be a long-term project. There are problems that cannot be resolved within four years. At a local level, in some parts of the country, electoral malpractice has become normalized: shifting these norms will take time. Similarly, serious issues, such as electoral violence in parts of the Highlands, are now entrenched and will require sustained work, including from security services, if they are ever to be overcome. However, if domestical politicians and international actors make an effort, they will likely be able to improve electoral quality before 2027. What remains to be seen is whether they will act.

The second group of questions hanging over PNG’s electoral politics are to do with electoral outcomes and parliamentary dynamics. One question, whether more women will be elected to PNG’s parliament, has a clear answer. Based on existing trends, it is very unlikely that there will be a substantial increase in the number of women in PNG’s parliament unless the government passes legislation introducing a quota of woman’s seats. Such legislation has been discussed and debated for at least a decade now. However, it is uncertain whether it will be passed in the near future.69

Also uncertain is whether incumbent high re-election rates are here to stay in PNG. In the last two elections, neighbouring Solomon Islands appears to have transitioned to a new equilibrium of higher electoral stability. Perhaps PNG will do the same? PNG’s government has, in the wake of the 2022 election, stated that it plans to rapidly increase MP funds.70 A similar funding increase was the source of higher incumbent re-election rates in Solomon Islands.71 In PNG, as we have explained, MP funding does not appear to be why re-election rates rose in 2022. But perhaps MP funding will prove important in future elections even if it was not the source of the 2022 change. And if funding was not the source of high re-election rates in 2022, then the source may be present in the future regardless. If it is, and if re-election rates remain high, it will be interesting to see if it affects PNG’s parliamentary and legislative dynamics in any way.In addition to uncertainties about the rates at which MPs will be re-elected in the future, there are questions about how electoral contestation will interact with parliamentary dynamics. Historically, much of the energy of PNG’s parliament has been devoted to manoeuvring in which senior political figures – usually but not always in the opposition – scheme to topple the prime minister via no-confidence votes.72 However, the window in which MPs are able to remove sitting prime ministers through no-confidence motions is limited by so-called ‘grace periods’ in which no-confidence motions cannot be introduced. And, in recent years, prime ministers have become increasingly adroit at using political and legal means of outmanoeuvring those plotting to depose them.73 Because of this, opportunities to successfully topple sitting prime ministers are becoming less readily available.74 This increases the importance of elections as a time in which prime ministers can be removed. However, prime ministers going into recent elections are starting to emerge as prime ministers after elections more often too.75 It may well be the case that PNG is about to enter a period in which prime ministers routinely stay in power for long terms. What this will ultimately mean for the state of political governance in PNG is unclear.


True to recent form, PNG’s 2022 elections were troubled – very troubled in parts of the country. For those concerned with running reasonably free and fair elections, the outcomes of 2022 speak to an urgent need for a concerted effort to improve electoral quality in PNG.

Also true to form, women are, once again, severely under-represented in PNG’s parliament. For those concerned with women’s representation, the results of 2022 demonstrate once again the need for some sort of measure designed to directly increase the number of female MPs.

In the case of both electoral quality and women’s representation, the question emerging from 2022 is not whether something needs to be done but whether there is domestic and international will to actually bring about change.

While much in 2022 was true to form, the elections also produced surprises: the most dramatic of these came in the form of high incumbent re-election rates. Although we have discussed possible explanations, the source of high incumbent re-election rates is still not clear. Nor is it clear whether re-election rates in 2022 will prove to be an aberration or not, and what the impacts on politics might be if 2022 becomes the new normal.Politics in PNG has often appeared remarkably static: perennially fluid and shaped by individual ambitions and patronage. Yet in 2022 there were signs of political change. The main question at this point is where, if anywhere, this change will lead.


The authors are grateful to Jon Fraenkel and two anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Terence Wood gratefully acknowledges the ANU–UPNG partnership for its ongoing support of his electoral research.

Licensed content

This article was originally published as: "Troubles and Puzzles: The 2022 General Elections in Papua New Guinea" by Terence Wood, Maholopa Laveil, and Michael Kabuni © The Journal of Pacific History, 2023. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Taylor & Francis Ltd,, on behalf of The Journal of Pacific History, Inc.

Areas of expertise: Economics and politics in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific; trade policy; economic history