Sun. Aug 14th, 2022

There were 204 election-related deaths during the 2017 polls, according to an observer group from the Australian National University, and police have said they have recorded 15 fatalities to date during this year’s campaign.

Marape is facing a challenge from former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who is bidding to return to power three years after resigning following a series of defections from his governing party.

Ex-PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill shapes as Marape's leading challenger.

Ex-PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill shapes as Marape’s leading challenger.Credit:AP

A former finance minister under O’Neill, 51-year-old Marape has the advantage of incumbency in a nation where ruling parties tend to be returned.

But he has faced criticism from businesses over his “Take Back PNG” policy, under which the Porgera gold mine was shut down in 2020. Amid an ailing resources sector the country is also struggling to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 3 per cent of the population of 9 million are fully vaccinated.

“Right now PNG is suffering from reduced income and high levels of debt so it’s a time when the government needs income badly,” said Mihai Sora, a research fellow in the Pacific Islands program at the Lowy Institute and project director of its Aus-PNG network.

“These things have put the PNG government under a lot of pressure.”

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The elections are also being held with the backdrop of China’s bid to extend its influence.

O’Neill took aim at Marape over the timing of a visit in late May by China Foreign Minister Wang Yi, coming so soon before voters cast their ballots, but the former PNG leader has also been highly receptive to Chinese investment in the past.

Wang was touring the region as Beijing was seeking to convince Pacific nations to sign wide-ranging agreements with China, having the previous month clinched a controversial security deal with Solomon Islands.

“[Chinese investment] is very important to PNG’s income, ”Sora said.

“But equally both Marape and O’Neill do value Papua New Guinea’s with Australia, so I think they’d both be looking for a sensible path forward in terms of how far to take the relationship forward with China and be careful not to unbalance or damage the relationship with Australia. ”

– with Reuters

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