Electoral trends

In 1977 Papua New Guinea held its first election as an independent state. Some aspects of electoral competition have changed dramatically since then, other aspects have changed much less.

The charts below offer a sense of the changing nature of electoral competition in PNG. If you are interested in more detailed analysis, have a look at some of the papers we have produced on election results.

Candidate numbers have gone up

From 1977 until 2012, elections became increasingly busy in most of Papua New Guinea. 73 candidates stood in Chimbu Provincial electorate in 2012. This trend reversed itself somewhat between 2012 and 2017, but in some electorates candidate numbers were still very high. In 2017 the highest number of candidates in a single electorate was 61.

There is remarkable variation in candidate numbers across different parts of PNG. Although 9 electorates had more than 50 candidates in 2017, in one constituency only 8 candidates stood.

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 just under 6 per cent of the votes cast. The introduction of limited preferential voting after 2002 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 Papua New Guinea. In 2017, one MP won with 77 per cent of (after preference) votes cast; another won, after preference allocations, with just 18 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 2017 parliament, fewer than 4 per cent of MPs have served five 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, in 2017 no women were elected. In 2017, just 5.4 per cent of candidates were women. As Figure 5 shows, on average, women candidates won lower vote shares than men in both 2012 and 2017. This reflects the challenges women candidates face.