Papua New Guinea: its system of government


A brief guide to Papua New Guinea’s political system, including tiers of government and the judiciary.

Parliament Haus, Port Moresby. Credit: Aaron Chin

Political structure

PNG is a constitutional monarchy that operates with a multi-party parliamentary democracy on the national level.

There are three tiers of government: national, provincial and local.

The country’s Constitution was adopted at the time of Independence in 1975 and has been modified many times since.

National government

PNG has a single house of Parliament with 111 members elected to five-year terms from 89 single-member electorates and 22 regional electorates.

The Head of State is Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor-General who performs mainly ceremonial duties.

The Governor-General is appointed by members of Parliament. The Prime Minister is appointed and dismissed by the Governor-General on the advice of Parliament.

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Since independence, governments have been formed by coalitions. There are a large number of parties, and to date no single party has captured enough of the vote to form its own government.

Directly after elections there is typically much negotiation between parties and independent candidates in the quest to form a government.

It is common for MPs to change party allegiances during their term, making for a fluid political landscape.

The current Prime Minister, James Marape, came to power in May 2019 after a mass defection of government MPs to the opposition ousted Peter O’Neill who had been Prime Minister since 2011.

The national government is responsible for major resource development, police, defence, foreign relations, trade, higher education and hospitals.

Provincial government

The legislative assembly in PNG’s provinces is led by the Governor, and includes the heads of local level government bodies, the members of the National Parliament from the province and appointed members.

Provincial governments are responsible for education, primary industry, business development and provincial works. They can levy indirect taxes but rely on grants from the National Government.

Local (district) government

Districts form the level of government below the provinces, with each province consisting of one or more districts. Each district in turn has one or more local level government (LLG) areas.

Local governments are responsible for water supply and have joint responsibility with provinces for roads, waste disposal, health and environmental protection.

The judiciary

PNG has a mixed legal system of English common law and customary law. There are three tiers of courts: the Supreme Court, the National Court and courts of limited jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court is the country’s highest judicial authority. It deals with constitutional matters and appellate cases.

The National Court has unlimited jurisdiction over all criminal and civil matters.

Courts of limited jurisdiction include district courts, local courts, village courts, land courts, juvenile courts and the coroner’s court.

Click here for more on PNG’s legal system for business.

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