by Benjamin Reilly
Papua New Guinea (PNG) has one of the longest records of continuous democracy in the developing world, with highly competitive national elections being held without interruption since 1964. In fact, on some indicators—notably its five post-independence elections, eight transitions of government and over 30 years of continuous democratic experience—PNG is one of the Third World's most successful democracies, being a very rare case of an economically underdeveloped and ethnically fragmented country which has nonetheless been able to maintain democratic government and meaningful elections.
The state of PNG comprises roughly half of the world's second largest island, New Guinea, and about 600 smaller islands. It shares its western border with Irian Jaya, a province of Indonesia. PNG was formed by the merger at independence of the Territory of Papua, which had been under Australian rule from 1906, with the Trust Territory of New Guinea, which had been a German colonial territory from 1884 to 1914, and had thenceforth been administered by Australia—first under military rule, then under a League of Nations mandate granted in 1920, and later under United Nations trusteeship from 1945. The two territories were jointly administered by Australia as an administrative union until 1975. The Territory of Papua New Guinea became self-governing in December 1973 and attained full independence on 16 September 1975.
PNG is home to approximately four million people, predominantly of Melanesian race. Modern representative politics has always been influenced by the highly fragmented nature of PNG traditional society, which is based around competing clans—extended family units—which form the primary (and sometimes the only) unit of political loyalty. With no common history of statehood, PNG society is fragmented into hundreds of often mutually antipathetic ethnic groupings. At the latest count approximately 840 distinct languages were spoken in PNG, around a