PNG PM James Marape distances himself from suitcase of cash after son’s arrest

According to an Australian National University observer group, there were 204 election-related deaths in the 2017 polls, and police have said they have recorded 15 fatalities so far during this year’s campaign.

Marape faces a challenge from former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who wants to return to power three years after resigning after a series of defections from his ruling party.

Ex-PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill poses Marape's main challenger.

Ex-PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill poses Marape’s main challenger.Credit:AP

Marape, 51, a former Treasury secretary under O’Neill, has the advantage of an established position in a country where ruling parties often return.

But he faced criticism from companies over his ‘Take Back PNG’ policy, which closed the Porgera gold mine in 2020. Amid an ailing resource sector, the country is also struggling to get out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 3 percent of the population of 9 million people is fully vaccinated.

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

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

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The elections are also being held against the background of China’s attempt to expand its influence.

O’Neill targeted Marape because of the timing of a visit from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in late May so soon before voters cast their votes, but the former PNG leader has also been very receptive to Chinese investment in the past.

Wang toured the region as Beijing tried to persuade Pacific countries to sign far-reaching agreements with China after signing a controversial security deal with the Solomon Islands last month.

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

“But both Marape and O’Neill value Papua New Guinea with Australia, so I think they would both be looking for a sensible way forward in terms of how far they can take the relationship with China and ensure that they do not become unbalanced or harm the relationship with Australia.”

– with Reuters

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