Electoral trends

In 1977 Papua New Guinea held its first election as an independent state. Since then there have been major changes in some aspects of electoral competition. Other aspects of competition have changed much less though. There is also a lot of variation around the country. The Islands region in particular has tended to have elections with fewer candidates, higher winning candidate vote shares, and lower incumbent turnover rates. If you want to know the details on electoral change and continuity over time, or how elections differ in different parts of Papua New Guinea, or if you want information on voter turnout, MP experience, women candidates, and the impact of the post-2002 change in electoral system, we’ve brought all this information together for you in the following publication:

Wood, T 2017 “Papua New Guinea election results: trends and patterns 1972-2012,” Development Policy Centre Discussion Paper 55, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University, Canberra.

You can download this publication at SSRN.

If you just want some brief highlights, keep reading below.

Candidate numbers have gone up

Elections have become increasingly busy contests in most of Papua New Guinea. 73 candidates stood in the Chimbu Provincial constituency in 2012. Not all constituencies are the same though. In 2012 only 8 candidates stood in one constituency. However, even in constituencies with comparatively few candidates, candidate numbers have usually increased over time. Figure 1 shows the minimum, median and maximum number of candidates per constituency for every general election since independence.

Winning candidate vote shares have fallen

As candidate numbers have gone up, the percentage of votes won by winning candidates has fallen in Papua New Guinea. In 2002, Bani Hiovo won the Northern Provincial seat by winning won just under 6 per cent of the votes cast. The introduction of limited preferential voting after 2002 has increased winning candidate vote shares somewhat, but even with the new system, as Figure 2 shows, some candidates have been able win elections with very low vote shares. Figure 2 also shows just how much variation can be found around the Papua New Guinea. In 2012, one MP won with 75 per cent of (after preference) votes cast; another won, after preference allocations, with just 16 per cent of the votes cast in their constituency. As a general rule, constituencies with the highest numbers of candidates have also been the constituencies with the lowest winning candidate vote shares, although there are exceptions.

Incumbent turnover rates have not trended strongly

Although candidate numbers have gone up, and winning candidate vote shares have come down, there has not been an equivalent trend in the proportion of sitting MPs who have lost their seats at each election. The number has fluctuated, but turnover rates have not changed in a systematic way. Figure 3 shows estimated turnover rates for each general election since 1977.

MP longevity

As might be expected given such high turnover rates, there are few long-serving MPs. A small number of MPs have stayed in parliament a long time, but they are the exception rather than the norm. In the 2012 parliament, fewer than 5 per cent of MPs had served four or more terms. Figure 4 shows estimated composition of parliaments by MPs’ time in office.

Women candidates

In the 2012 election three women MPs were elected. This was the best result for women candidates since 1977. However, 3 MPs is still only 2.7 per cent of all MPs, and elections remain dominated by men. In 2012, just 4 per cent of candidates were women. As Figure 5 shows, on average, in each of PNG’s regions, women candidates won lower vote shares than men in 2012. This reflects the challenges women candidates face. On the other hand, 2012 showed that strong women candidates can sometimes win elections in PNG.