Voting, violence and rainforest in Papua New Guinea: What’s the connection?

The evening's fire is lit beneath a spectacular sunset that lights up the sky along the coast near Gadaisu, Papua New Guinea.

The effects of corruption threaten the New Guinea people as general elections draw to a close.


Elections in Papua New Guinea have been blighted by violence, with thousands fleeing from the Highlands area of the country. Why? The electoral roll has reportedly not been consistently maintained since 2017, fuelling an outbreak of frustration and anger where an estimated one million people have not been able to cast their registered votes.

We spoke with people living in the south of Papua New Guinea to hear what this means for them and for the tropical rainforest they care for. All answers have been anonymised.

What is happening with the Papua New Guinea elections right now?

“I was part of the observation team over the polling period and from my observations there were a good number of issues that were faced during polling, with a big number of eligible voters turned away and denied their constitutional rights to cast their vote. People couldn’t find their names on the electoral roll, which was frustrating for many voters, that they couldn’t take part in this process and choose a leader to represent them.”

“Most of our names were not in there, like most people attending. We lost our rights to vote in the national election. The electoral commission had five years to prepare for the election yet most voters missed out.”

“They had more than five years to prepare for the election and it’s frustrating.”

Is this trouble widespread?

“People in areas not affected by the violence have been affected psychologically, because it’s very depressing to see what’s happening around the country and to know you couldn’t take part in the election process is affecting people emotionally, and people are just so disappointed by the government at the moment.”

How does this affect rainforest?

“The protected area bill is currently pending with parliament. It’s a majority rule, so we need good members in the parliament to give support for the rainforest. This is an important thing that requires a good member to be in the parliament to support this.”

“If the bill is delayed, and there is no action taken, there is a risk of losing more rainforest. Communities will lose the forest they rely on for their livelihoods.”

“There is a link between the current elections and the rainforest. One of the reasons is that we really need a good leader, and when he or she gets into parliament they are responsible for policies and some of these are around conservation and natural resources, and not forgetting that we (people) are resource owners as well. This election is really important in hoping that a good leader is chosen and that leader is going to push for good governance in the resource sector. The fear is that if we are having a lot of issues around the elections without people not being able to vote, and ballot boxes hijacked, or candidates buying votes from people will result in having a leader who is already corrupt getting into parliament and may result in the rainforest being exploited.”

Elections have now been extended to the 12th of August with vote counting under pressure to move quickly.

Corruption in politics means the health of rainforest stays in limbo. Further election delays mean no action, no bills passed to protect indigenous lands and a distinct possibility of rainforest being exploited.

Politicians must understand the importance they play in people’s lives, in biodiversity and in the climate crisis; their actions are essential in protecting rainforest and the people that live there.

Our hearts go out to our colleagues, partner communities and all those affected in Papua New Guinea.

With other election results still to come, the first female MP in a decade has been elected in Papua New Guinea; hopefully a sign of further social justice to come.

Read more here.


Update: As we went live with this blog, the news broke that James Marape has been re-elected as Prime minister in Papua New Guinea.


Wabumari lies between the forest and the ocean.
Wabumari lies between the forest and the ocean.