Marigold Haber-Dunca, Philippines
There indeed was much ado about the May 2010 national elections in the Philippines. It was after all an important and historic national exercise, and most of the excitement was caused by the automation, for the first time, of the elections in the country.
Add to that the fact that majority of Filipinos, based on pre-election surveys, were hopeful and anticipating change. National elections were held six years prior, but the results of that Presidential race have been questioned.
So it was no surprise that 38 million cast their votes on election day in 2010, the biggest number in 30 years in the Philippines. This accounts for an impressive 75% voter turnout.
Analysts were already expecting a high turnout because of the Filipinos’ characteristic penchant for exercising suffrage. But the same analysts too had been skeptical about the maturity and readiness of the electorate not only for the automated poll system, but more so in electing the right set of leaders that would provide good governance and steer the country forward.
Such skepticism was covered in my two-part special report aired on RPN News in the Philippines sometime in April.
Never have elections been covered in the Philippines with more passion and in such fashion as the May 2010 polls. Media coverage was truly comprehensive. 3,319 local media and 221 foreign media were accredited by the Commission on Elections to cover the conduct of the polls.
Not only did traditional media play a vital role in the coverage of the elections, new media and citizens’ journalism were also successfully tapped to provide media consumers with different news, views and visual effects that kept them tuned in.
Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter became good sources of electionrelated news and information. And ordinary Filipinos with news, videos and pictures to share were given valuable airtime in news programs and space in news stories. Big television networks for the first time used touch screens, holograms and holographic effects to keep their election reports visually appealing to audiences.
With the media’s unprecedented presence and coverage strategies, and the automated counting of votes, Filipinos in general noted significant improvements in this year’s exercise. Surveys after the polls showed that 65% agreed that compared with past elections, there were less chances of cheating in the new system.
But like any technology being used for the first time, the media showed that the automation of polling in the Philippines was not without flaws. A number of voters were disenfranchised because of the long wait in the line. It took many an average of two-to-three hours of queuing before being able to cast their ballots. Voting hours were extended to accommodate more voters but that was not enough.
Videos showed various procedural problems due to the clustering of precincts and the lack of preparedness of Board of Election inspectors.
Media also fearlessly reported and showed videos of election-related violence and vote buying instances.
Observers also noted that media might have failed to report the reasons for the delay in the transmission of the remaining 20% of results of the precincts.
In most of its reports though, media focused on the automation itself, the problems with the machines, how long it took people to vote, and calling the results, which proved to be the biggest saving grace in the whole exercise.
For a country used to manual counting of votes and knowing the winners only after at least three weeks, Filipinos welcomed with awe the automated counting that proclaimed, in two days, a new set of leaders led by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.
Three months after the elections, the Social Weather Stations Survey showed that citizen satisfaction in polls jumped from 50% in the 2004 and 2007 elections to 75% in 2010. Indeed, election results believability increased. 83% of those surveyed said Comelec did honest counting compared with 55% in 2004. People who believed there was cheating came down from 47 to 34%.
Of course there is still an ongoing electoral protest in the Vice Presidential race. But that one is a contest about the counting of the so-called “null” votes, which is more about procedure than a question on the technical operation of automation.
And as the credibility of the election results improved with the generally successful automation, there is no reason now to question the readiness of Filipinos to go full steam ahead with the use of 21st century technology to aid the country’s political exercises.
The one thing that only time can tell is whether the success of poll automation will result in the election of leaders who would spearhead good governance and bring about much needed changes to the country.
Ms Marigold Haber-Dunca works as a news & current affairs manager in RPN9 in the Philippines.