Rufina Peter, the new Governor of Central Province, will be the only woman in the 118 seat Papua New Guinea parliament. She is now in an influential position to advocate for a system to get more women into parliament
NOOSA - The electors of Papua New Guinea’s prosaically-named Central Province found themselves to be also the centre of national attention today as the only one of 118 electorates to vote in a woman as their Governor and member of parliament.
Late yesterday, Rufina Peter, standing on an unlikely policy platform proposed by Peter O‘Neill’s unsuccessful People’s National Congress [see below], blitzed the incumbent Governor Robert Agarobe (Pangu) who had led the field of 22 candidates until Peter swooped to take the seat in the third last round of counting.
She gained 6,779 preference votes from third-placed candidate, Nelson Saroa, to win the seat by 3,444 votes in the electorate of 131 voters.
This made her the first – and probably the only woman – to be elected to PNG’s 11th parliament and only the seventh woman elected since PNG's independence in 1975..
Late yesterday afternoon, as the election officially ended, only 56 of the 118 seats had been declared, with the Electoral Commission identifying nine seats in which counting had not even started.
Peter, 52, an agricultural economist whose most recent job was as project manager of transformational change at PNG’s central bank, the Bank of Papua New Guinea, told journalist Jo Chandler last month that she had too often seen MPs squander opportunity and ignore good policy.
In Guardian Australia, Chandler wrote, ‘one instance, which still rankles [Peter], involved months of work on a big agricultural plan, getting all the technical work scoped out, donors locked in, the community primed…’
“….and the minister would not even take time to listen to it.
“And I thought: why else are you in parliament? We’ve given it to you on a plate.
“Enough is enough. You know, we cannot continue to carry water around on our heads.”
In this, her second attempt to win the seat, Peter spent every spare moment for the five years since the last election preparing to take on Agarobe, who she finished in third place behind in 2017.
She was one of only 167 women contesting this election – just 4% of the 3,625 candidates.
Former Governor Agarobe was generous in defeat, saying:
“I wish you all the best, as your new job comes with new responsibilities and new challenges.
“For gender equality you are a great replacement not only representing Central Province as a leader but also a leader for all the woman of PNG.
“We can only wait and see for you to deliver as per your promises to our people.
“Please don’t forget to carry on the task of protecting our land and our people.”
But the frantic activity of forming a new government has now begun, and that always includes defections and realignments that can bring a completely different complexion on the final coalition.
As a Governor, Rufina Peter, the only woman in the 118 seat parliament, finds herself in a high office that long and senior experience in public service have well equipped her for.
And find herself in a prime position for advocating a deal to get more women into PNG's national parliament.