Int’l observers grade Comelec preparation: Needs improvement

Int’l observers grade Comelec preparation: Needs improvement
By Niña Calleja
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines–Needs improvement.

That’s the grade the Commission on Elections got for its efforts in preparing for the country’s first fully automated polls.

Western election observers on Saturday criticized the government for lack of a backup system and “insufficient” openness as the country prepares to choose its next president with a new automated voting system.

“[To give] words of encouragement and to give some kind of indication [of] where things are in the Philippines, the grade is ‘needs improvement,’” Jamie Metzl, one of five delegates of the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), said in a press conference.

In a report presented to the media, the NDI said the Comelec would need a continuity plan in case of a system breakdown which could likely delay, obstruct or lead to the failure of elections.

“The delegation believes the release of such a comprehensive plan, addressing both national and local planning, could go a considerable way to assuring voters that the Comelec is aware of, and sensitive to the many issues raised in the public domain,” the NDI said in its report.

Aside from Metzl, the other delegates were Thomas Barry, NDI deputy regional director for Asia; Sam Gejdenson, former member of the US Congress; Nora Owen, former Justice minister of Ireland; and Sue Wood, former president of the New Zealand National Party.

Backup needed

Since glitches were possible in any system, Metzl said the poll body must ensure that the machines—to be used for the first time to count ballots, pool and transmit results from more than 350,000 precincts—were fraud-proof and had adequate backup.

“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,” the NDI said.

This perception has “inhibited public confidence in the elections and generated anxiety about the automated election system.” it added.

Metzl, who is also executive vice president of Asia Society, said: “We are not underestimating the enormous challenge that’s facing the Comelec in organizing the Philippines’ first fully automated elections. The Comelec itself admitted that it has fallen behind in its preparation.”

Not open enough

The report also said the Comelec had yet to reveal to candidates and voters what backup plan they had, in the event the automated system failed.

Said NDI official Barry: “The biggest challenge and contribution that the Comelec can make is to communicate openly and frankly.”

Gejdenson, former US congressman, said although they had not seen how the precinct count optical scanning (PCOS) machine would operate, they had gathered reports and reviews about previous machine tests.

Owen, a former justice minister whose home country Ireland experienced a failure in automated election, said this year’s election in the Philippines would be an improvement over its past elections.

“I come from Ireland … We had an electronic automated system which we have now abandoned precisely because some of the safeguards which are now in your system did not exist in ours,” she said.

She stressed that the “key ingredients” in the new system was to print ballots with names and codes that “can only be read in the appropriate precinct.”

Suggestions

The foreign observers said the Comelec had enough time to work on their suggestions.

“I think they can, it’s a question of accelerating some of what they already have in the pipeline and making the information they have available to the broader section of Philippine society,” Gejdenson said.

The NDI delegates were in the country from March 7 to 12. They met with government officials, leaders of political parties, civil society and human rights groups, and media organizations.

Fifty million voters are set to go to the polls on May 10, when 17,000 posts from president down to municipal council seats will be contested. With a report from AFP

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.