Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape was sworn in for a second term Tuesday, after an election hit by violence and alleged corruption that also ended a five-year absence of women in parliament. Marape won support from a majority of members in the Pacific island nation’s newly elected parliament.
In a wide-ranging first speech to the new parliament, he reiterated his pledge to make Papua New Guinea the “richest black Christian nation on Earth” and welcomed the unanimous parliamentary vote that secured his leadership.
“We are one, one people, one country, one nation,” Marape said.
“And I just want to appreciate the fact that today, the parliament came in total unison.”
Addressing concerns — raised by Commonwealth election observer teams — over bribery allegations and missing names from voter rolls, Marape also flagged a review of polling.
“We must reform our electoral processes. It is evident that maintaining the status quo on this is no longer an option.”
Among the newly elected members were Rufina Peter and Kessy Sawang, the first female candidates confirmed to have secured a seat in parliament. Their victories marked a return of women to national politics after none won seats in the previous election in 2017.
It is a “proud moment,” said Peter O’Neill, leader of the People’s National Congress — of which Rufina Peter is a member.
“Our mothers, girls and women in PNG and in fact the whole Pacific region have a true champion, an experienced woman in Parliament,” O’Neill said in a statement.
Voting ended on Friday but the count is still underway for some seats in the mountainous, forest-covered country, which is rich in resources but suffers from widespread poverty. About 10,000 police, army and corrections services personnel were mobilised for the vote.
In one politically motivated attack on July 26, a machete-wielding gang chased down two victims outside a counting centre, leaving one with a traumatic brain injury and another with a wounded limb.
In an ethnically diverse country with more than 800 languages, voters traditionally focus on the material benefits candidates can bring to their communities.