Filipinos face long wait as votes are counted by hand
Filipinos will have to wait until next month to find out who most of the mid-term poll winners are because votes are laboriously counted by hand, a system that is prone to manipulation and has caused concern among business groups.
'My God,' Eastern Samar governor-elect Benjamin Evardone exclaimed yesterday over the snail-paced counting, now being further delayed by charges of fraud and incidents of violence.
'Whenever counting slows down, there is ... the opportunity to somehow alter the results of the elections,' said Mr Evardone, the media campaign strategist for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Team Unity.
Three major business groups were worried enough to issue a joint statement yesterday. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Philippines Exporters Confederation and the Federation of Philippine Industries urged 'the speedy and transparent conclusion of the canvassing of votes to finally determine our duly elected set of national and local leaders'.
Nine days after 75 per cent of 43 million registered voters cast their ballots, winners have been proclaimed in a little more than half of the roughly 17,000 local and national races, including those for 255 seats in the Lower House of Congress.
No winner has been announced in any of the 12 Senate races.
Mr Evardone envies India for its speedy polls: 'I marvel at them'.
India's poll exercise to elect a 500-member Lower House of Parliament is a gigantic one, involving over 668 million voters trooping to 800,000 polling stations. However, the results are known within three days because the country has electronic voting, an Indian diplomat in Manila said.
The diplomat said that while India still has incidents of armed men barring voters from precincts or snatching ballot boxes, 'once voters reach the polling station and cast their votes, then there is very little scope for rigging [and] elections are quite fair'.
That was not the case in the Philippines, according to Cecilia Lero of the 27-member People's International Observer Mission.
After witnessing how Pampanga province associates of President Arroyo counted the votes for her son, Congressman Juan Miguel Arroyo, and other officials, Ms Lero concluded: 'I have a strong suspicion the [vote counting] is deliberately kept manual'.
She noted that thousands of electronic vote-counting machines were sitting in a Manila warehouse as a law on automated polls awaited action.
'The process is so arduous,' she said of the manual system. 'The ballots are read out loud. The votes have to be manually tallied by two different people, the process is repeated from [village] level to municipal, [then] provincial and [finally] national levels.'
She agreed with the mission's observation that the exercise was open to manipulation.
Surprisingly, the head of an election watchdog group said yesterday that counting was generally faster this time than in previous polls. However, Henrietta de Villa of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting added: 'We have more reports now of quite a number of other irregularities' which also delay results.
Violence was another reason for delay. In Basilan yesterday, teachers inside a school in Lamitan town stopped collating votes when twin explosions hit the premises. Three were injured.
Canvassing in the northern town of Tineg, Abra, has stopped after a shooting incident last weekend. The ballot boxes are now chained together inside a locked room awaiting a new set of poll officials.