Strong, broadly based political parties are often cited by political scientists as one of the most important factors in promoting democratization. This is particularly the case in fledgling democracies, where well-institutionalized political parties are seen as being essential prerequisites for elaborating political interests and forming effective governments. This article raises what appears to be a significant deviant case for these arguments by examining the party system in Papua New Guinea (PNG), which appears to represent an unusual example of a developing country in which both a highly competitive democratic political system coexists with weak, fragmented and declining political parties. This paper sets out the history of competitive multi-party democracy in PNG, presenting both qualitative and quantitative analyses of party support and performance. It then examines the apparent decline in the salience of political parties in PNG, and the reasons for that decline. It concludes by a addressing the question of the relationship between party strength and democratization.