Papua New Guinea is a constitutional monarchy which recognises Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. She is represented by a governor-general who is nominated by parliament and who serves for a term of six years.

The prime minister is the head of the national government, which is vested with executive power. Following parliamentary elections, the leader of the majority party or coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the governor general, who acts in accordance with a decision of parliament. The National Executive Council (cabinet) is appointed by the governor-general on the prime minister’s recommendation.

Legislative power is vested in both the government and the unicameral parliament. The parliament consists of 109 members, and elections are held every five years with universal adult suffrage. Each elector has two votes. One vote is used in the 89 ‘open’ constituencies (from 2007, voting on the basis of proportional representation), the other in one of the 19 provincial constituencies or the capital district, from each of which a representative is elected who acts as a governor in the province or capital district.

Parliament can only hold votes of no confidence in the prime minister when more than 18 months has elapsed since an election and at least 12 months before a new election is due.

Government is structured at two levels: national and provincial. The 19 provincial governments can levy taxes and are responsible for local education, industry and business development, while national government is responsible for national finance, infrastructure, defence, foreign relations, trade, schools and hospitals.

Since 2003 senior civil servants are appointed by the Public Service Commission.

Constitutional safeguards include freedom of speech, press, worship, movement and association. The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislature. The judicial system was based on British models, but is in accord with traditional values, particularly with respect to customary land rights.

The Supreme Court is both the final court of appeal and the constitutional court. The National Council has original jurisdiction in the most serious civil and criminal cases. Appeals from the National Court are heard by the Supreme Court. The lower courts comprise district, local and village courts (magistrates’ courts dealing with certain customary matters). There are also special courts concerned with family law, customary land disputes and civil cases relating to the mining sector.