Philippine election shows need for reforms
Poll monitors point to a range of errors by the organisers of the voting system
Calls are growing for reforms to the way the Philippines holds elections after monitors concluded they were the least well conducted of the raft of votes recently held across Asia.
The monitors blamed the Philippine government's organising body, the Commission on Elections, better known as Comelec, for failings ranging from incomplete voter lists to an inability to implement computerisation.
Comelec has rejected the charges of incompetence, although pressure is building for a reform of the electoral system.
No single election monitoring group has covered all the region's polls so far this year - in Indonesia, Taiwan, India and Sri Lanka. Monitors based their assessments on previous elections they had covered and by sharing views with colleagues.
The secretary-general of Philippines watchdog the National Citizen's Movement for Free Elections, Guillermo Luz, yesterday concluded that the May 10 elections were the worst conducted of the five he had observed in 12 years of monitoring. He put most of the blame on Comelec, which he said needed to be reformed.
'This is not the best Comelec I've seen - there have been far, far better ones than this one,' Mr Luz said.
His main concern was that computerised voting had not been implemented, despite elaborate plans. The Supreme Court voided a 1.3 billion peso (HK$182 million) contract for the process in January amid allegations that the automated counting machines were defective.
Mr Luz said that with 43.5 million voters and a rapidly increasing population bringing another four million into the electoral system every three years, counting ballots by hand was no longer feasible, especially under the country's presidential system. This meant that for the contests for president, vice-president and senator - all selected on a nationwide basis - votes had to be counted at the municipal, provincial and national level before going to Congress for approval. The final results are likely to be declared by about June 4.
Comelec commissioner Resurreccion Borra responded by claiming that the election watchdog was behind in its own voting count and that its performance would be scrutinised.
'Our canvassing process, although manual, was much faster than [their] quick count using high-technology,' Mr Borra said. 'We will require them to submit their performance report on the use of the technology that they bungled.'
Comelec had done its job and it was now up to Congress to review the ballots and declare the results, he said.
But foreign monitors found the process wanting. The Bangkok-based Asian Network For Free Elections' Sittha Lertphaiboonsiri believed that the polls had been conducted like a fiesta, which made for a less-than-serious atmosphere and attitude.
'Comelec should not think that elections can be like a fiesta because they have to be conducted within boundaries of the law with rules and discipline,' he said.
'Elections require formal patterns to make the process free and fair. Going along with the flow of the fun-fair fare opens the floodgate to violence and irregularities.'
Paul Hutchcroft, associate professor with the National University of Singapore, described the country's voting system as 'one of the world's most archaic and not serving Filipinos well'.
Comelec had been mired in controversy and it was 'pathetic' that at least 900,000 voters had been unable to cast ballots.
'This election is a clarion call for improving the system and starting to give a greater sense of choice to Philippine voters,' he said.