Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Good afternoon from the city of Antipolo, a seat of the Divine Mother!
The entire country is agog today with the seemingly chaotic conduct of the first automated polls in history. There has been a lot of excitement going due to the computerization technology, but this excitement was dampened along the way by the fiasco in the processes.
There surely are positives to the year’s synchronized national & local polls. Computerization, voters’ vigilance, widened mass media coverage, public forums & debates, and signs of institutional strengthening (of the polls commission) are among those that can be readily cited.
Never mind if the media has been biased for certain candidates and parties, and journalists have been displaying their ‘intellectual prostitution’ as paid mercenaries of an oligarchic press. The broadened media coverage has brought poll campaigns one step higher in the rung of electoral modernization, which we must welcome.
The list of phenomena that continue to dampen the luster of the polls in the Philippines are:
• Election-related violence. Already, around 82 poll-related violent incidents took place. I’ve added those dead in Abra, Isabela, Cavite ARMM. The fatalities will climb yet till tomorrow, 11 May, though overall deaths went down 200% since 2004. Continuous building of a culture of peace and platform-based campaigns will bring down violence next time around.
• Vote Buying. Rampant vote buying were reported by vigilant citizens. Some politicians accordingly paid the voters of their opponents so that they would no longer go to the poll precints to cast their votes. Voters’ education should be waged relentlessly, an effort that had already been showing positive results so far.
• Private Armies. Armed goons and security personnel of politicians were seen across the archipelago from north to south. Brandishing guns like Wild Wild West thugs, at a time when a gun ban is in place. Building a culture of peace and strengthening institutions of peace & order will eradicate private armies in the short run.
• Poll Process Glitches. Precints that can’t be located, voters with names disappearing on the official list, disabled persons unable to get assistance to get upstairs for voting purposes, poll computers that jam, too slow voting pace, and more. Assigning an information team and installing a precint locator map at the school entrance (venue of polls), improving registration processes, and further improving automation hardware and software would hopefully correct these glitches next polls.
• Flying Voters/Multiple Registration. Vigilant citizens reported of flying voters. Some politicians think they can still sustain this old fogey dirty operations. This seems to jibe with double or multiple registrations for many voters, showing how the poll commission has been remiss in rectifying the registration list. Strict enforcement of rectification of multiple registrations, which already began, should be followed through to prevent the problems cited.
• Fraudulent Poll Surveys. Survey companies have shown signs of fraudulence in the survey results. Their methods of conducting the surveys were far from scientific, even as the results were intended to simulate a band wagon effect for favored candidates and parties. This had almost irreparably destroyed the reputation of surveys altogether. Criminalize fraudulent polls, and secure the services of an independent panel to assess poll methods and results can hopefully correct survey crimes. Besides, voters should be educated to vote based on conscience rather than based on poll ratings.
• Personality Politics. It is still a personality-based politics all the way, from national down to local campaigns. Enforce in full the modernization of political parties, to strengthen platform-based campaigns altogether. Strictly ban turncoatism, disqualify turncoating candidates, and ensure an ideology-based social marketing by competing groups.
• Party List Abuse. Party list groups, supposedly representing marginal sectors, have become a victim of abuse by big-time politicians serving as a party’s top candidates. A public consensus, translated into an enabling law, should identify what the marginal sectors are. Also, those leaders who rose from the ranks of the same marginal sectors, should be the ones recognized by the poll commission. Party list groups led by big-time politicians should be banned from participating in the political contest.
Electoral reforms are still a viable option in this country. Slow indeed is the pace of reforms, but with diverse stakeholders participating in making the poll reforms work and in identifying viable decision tracks for election conduct, the country can move on in this arena of political institutionalization and modernization.
Lastly, I am preparing myself to accept the outcome of the polls. Provided that the overall conduct of the year’s polls will receive a passing grade of at least 3.00. Which means, despite the fiasco and imperfections, election is an appreciable democratic exercise that is much better than the option of dictatorship.
[Philippines, 10 May 2010.]
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