Hope for women in PNG elections – Peter becomes lone female governor

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Rufina Peter
Central Province's Governor-elect Rufina Peter ... "I will carry my people’s plight, I will fight for our women, our children and the underprivileged." Image: PNG Post-Courier screenshot APR

By Gorethy Kenneth of the PNG Post-Courier in Port Moresby

If there is a glimmer of hope in Papua New Guinea’s violence marred national general elections, then it has to be the elevation of a lone woman to the National Parliament.

It took the People’s National Congress (PNC) Governor-elect of Central Province, Rufina Peter, three attempts to wrest power away from Pangu’s Robert Agarobe at the close of counting last week.

The contest went down to the wire and Peter won on the weight of second and third preferential votes from eliminated candidates to unseat Agarobe.

She becomes the second woman to win the Central regional seat –– the first being vocal Papua Besena MP Dame Josephine Abaijah. And she is the eighth woman to be elected to Parliament, the first in a decade.

In another major development, the people of Madang are on the cusp of sending a second woman to join Peter in Parliament.

Rai Coast hopes up
In the remote district of Rai Coast –– famous for hosting a Russian anthropologist a century ago – jittery voters are keeping their fingers crossed as distribution of preferences was taking place over the weekend.

These are the same preferences that elevated Peter and given Sawang’s strong lead in the first half of the count, the preferences are hoped to push her to  victory.

Last Friday, she was in second place on 5086 votes after the first preferences were completed from defending MP Peter Sapia’s LLG area, pushing Sapia to 7127 votes.

Counting of preferential votes is continuing at a snail’s pace in Rai Coast as the coasties hold their breath.

More than 62,361 people of Central Province cast their vote for Peter, who polled 3444 more votes against incumbent Agarobe.

She surpassed the absolute majority of 60,640 after the 20th exclusion of Nelson Saroa who had 25,551 votes distributed, which pushed Rufina to collect 6779, making her reach the target with 62,361 votes against Agarobe who had 58,917 votes.

She said at her declaration on Friday night that she was aware of the magnitude of politics played out on the floor of Parliament, the tasks ahead of her, the wrestling she would need to do to give her Central Province people what they deserve.

First woman declared
An economist and Goilala’s first female politician, Rufina Peter is now the first woman to be declared in the 2022 national election.

Peter admitted that being elected as the political head of a province came with great responsibility and she was confident she could deliver to her people by working as a team.

PNC leader Peter O’Neill was first to congratulate the party’s “iron lady”, saying her declaration was a proud moment for the party.

“Rufina Peter’s declaration is a proud moment for our Party. She fought hard and stands strongly for those she represents. It is a pity that the ferocity and aggressive nature of this terrible national general election has sidelined a record number of female candidates,” O’Neill said.

In an interview over the weekend, Peter said Central Province had many educated elites who were instrumental in building the nation on the eve of independence.

“In my five years, I will make that happen again while in office, I will carry my people’s plight, I will fight for our women, our children and the underprivileged,” she said.

Dedicated to ‘female empowerment’
Peter assured the people of Central and PNG women that she stood ready to work with all members-elect in Central and the provincial administration to serve her people in five districts.

The new governor also thanked her predecessor, Robert Agarobe, for leading and governing Central Province over the past five years.

She dedicated her victory to God, the women of Central and male champions of women empowerment.

She acknowledged all security forces and electoral officials for delivering the elections in trying circumstances, and also praised the PNC party for believing in and endorsing her to run under its banner.

Gorethy Kenneth is a senior PNG Post-Courier journalist. Republished with permission.

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