Awareness on automated polls lacking—foreign monitors

By DateLine Philippines

A group of foreigners here to monitor preparations for the May 10 elections called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to hold dialogues to further increase awareness about the automated election system as doubts and a lack of confidence in the new voting process linger.

The delegates of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), composed of former lawmakers and government officials from the US, New Zealand and Ireland, said the lack of dialogue among major stakeholders in the elections, and the Comelec’s lack of openness and transparency on the automated elections, have contributed to the high degree of anxiety over May 10.

“There is (still) a high level of uncertainty (in the automated elections) and it is incumbent on the Comelec to qualify the automated elections (procedure) and the manual count (as contingency measure) to be accepted,” said Jamie Metzl, executive vice president of Asia Society during a press briefing Saturday in Makati City.

“In an environment with a history of election irregularities, it is essential that the Commission (on Elections) undertake a major effort to bolster public confidence in the new Automated Election System and the impartiality of its decisions,” said the NDI.

“The perception, whether fair or not, is that the Comelec has not done so. When it concerns elections, perceptions can be as important as reality,” added the group in its recommendations.

The NDI delegates also raised concerns about the safety of journalists covering the elections, noting the November 23 Ampatuan massacre, in which 57 people, 32 of them media workers, died.

The group urged officials of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to dialogue with media groups on concrete steps to ensure the security and safety of journalists.

At the same time, they also cited the responsibility of media owners to ensure their workers’ safety.

“Media owners must meet their responsibilities for the safety of their employees. To be effective, this should be expressed through providing resources and support (such as communication system and person security), as well as using their collective voice to denounce violence and intimidation,” they said.

The NDI delegates said “suspicions and lack of trust among the political competitors and towards authorities, combined with insufficient inclusiveness and transparency, have inhibited public confidence in the elections and generated anxiety about the automated election system.”

The delegation will be in the country until March 13 to review political environment and the framework for the elections, in which 17,000 positions, up to the presidency, will be contested.

The group has a mandate based on the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation launched at the United Nations in 2005, which the NDI and 35 international civil society organizations endorsed.

The NDI added that the Comelec should take advantage of the remaining time before the elections to to conduct public dialogues, and clarify and issue instructions on a range of outstanding issues.

The group said any delays in the conduct of public dialogues will lead to speculations that the Comelec is “unwilling to consider public opinion or allow sufficient time for debate.”

Asked to rank the election preparations of the Comelec, the NDI delegates at the press briefing gave the agency a grade of “needs improvement,” owing to the lack of information and lack of dialogue with major stakeholders.

“The biggest challenge for the Comelec is to do better in communicating openly and frankly (about the automated procedures),” said Sam Gejdenson, former member of the US House of Representatives.

He also stressed that honest and effective elections cannot be achieved merely through automation.

“It’s not about the equipment…it’s about the country and its people and everybody has to do his part to make the process work,” he said.

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