Moving forward from election hang-over

Claudette Guevara, Deputy Executive Director for Programs of the Stratbase ADRi and Secretary-General of Democracy Watch Philippines

In every election, moving forward is the easiest part for winners and hardest part for losers. Victory and defeat come hand in hand in every democracy. Elections will always spark varied and competing opinions often creating debates and contestations. This is normal in a democracy.

As of May 14 4:00 a.m., results from approximately 92% of all precincts had already been received and released which exceeded the total results received by the system compared to the 2016 elections. In fact, this year’s election had the greatest number of precincts received within the first hour.

However, according to Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, about 400 to 600 out of 85,000 vote counting machines (VCMs) in different precincts across the country malfunctioned, while the total number of problematic machines in the previous election was only at 188. Evidently, the problems with the VCMs tripled this year compared to the 2016 elections which resulted to some delays in the voting process.

Last Monday, around 8:00 p.m., Filipinos were left with the question of why the “transmission of votes” stopped on live television. Even the news media could not understand the reason behind it. Everyone was not aware that the delay that happened was a technical issue in the transparency server, and not on the transmission of votes until Jimenez explained and cleared their findings before midnight.

Everyone did not know that the transmission of votes was actually faster, as more than 50% of the results had already been transmitted and received in the other servers. This is evident in the fast proclamation of many local government winners before midnight. Also, some candidates already conceded thereafter.

If the technical “glitch” could have been explained earlier, suspicions of “something happening” could have been avoided. But the Comelec had to comply with official protocols and processes to judiciously address the situation before releasing information to the public.

In this year’s elections, Comelec had control of most of the components of the election process, including ballot printing, warehousing and logistics. Important to note that there were third party suppliers that were contracted particularly for the SD cards and marking pens used by voters to cast their votes. A thorough investigation on the performance of these suppliers are in order.

These things happen. What is more important is there are fast solutions and back ups to resolve these problems. Furthermore, we should focus and expect the Random Manual Audit to verify the accuracy of the vote counts. This and ongoing audit of the actual election returns by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting or PPCRV will prove to be the ultimate validation of the whole election process.

In this election, though hard to prove, there are more reports of massive vote buying.Though the Comelec called for a “War on vote buying” and activated the Kontra Bigay task force, vote becoming has now become the default option for some politicians because the old cheating methods of the manual voting era are gone.

They have to do their vote buying to catch the voter before they get to the precinct. How to stop vote buying should become the next focus of the Comelec and a challenge for our policy leaders.

The results of the senatorial election showed the dominance of administration candidates who were endorsed by President Rodrigo Duterte. They have won most of the seats in the senatorial race from administration party PDP-Laban andregional party Hugpong ng Pagbabago while the opposition senatorial slate Otso Diretso clearly losing with not even a single candidate making it to the top 12.

Although the results of the elections are still unofficial, the trend favoring the administration’s endorsed senatorial candidates seem to be unstoppable. This demonstrates the strength of the president’s popularity and influence.

Moving forward, I believe that there will always be room for improvement. Several suggestions from electoral watchdogs and source code reviewers were given based on concerns from the unresolved electoral issues from the previous elections. May we all learn from these and work on further refining our automated election system.

We must be thankful that there was less election related violence as reported by the Philippine National Police, and we must thank our front-liners. Teachers, soldiers, policemen and volunteers.

En route to the 2022 elections, let the success of this year’s polls encourage more active participation from voters and increased confidence in the country’s electoral process. Notwithstanding the technical hitches, the wider participation and fast transmission resulting in early proclamation of thousands of candidatesreflects the success of the elections.

There are arguments about how economic disparities affect the turnout of votes. Some people keep blaming the uneducated and the poor, saying that it is their fault and they have to deal with it. In reality, all of us are part of the problem and also part of the solution to the country’s problems. Let’s end that elitist point of view and focus on fixing the flawed system that relies on manipulation and oppression.

The next question is, though some political dynasties have ended in the 2019 midterm elections, will this just open and lead to new dynasties? Let’s see.

 

 
This article was originally published in philstar.com.

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