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Foreign observers find PH polls ‘complicated, interesting’

By JAN EIDRIENNE DE LUIS/THE FILIPINO CONNECTION

Amid the tensions inside the Commission on Election’s command center at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), and the outbreak of displeasure in this year’s partial election results, fascination comes the senses of visitors.

Sitting calmly in the middle of the buzz inside the PICC, Cambodian foreign observer Phea Sat shifts from turning his head to listen to Comelec commissioners to occasionally jotting down notes.
“I find the elections here very interesting, because it does not seem to dwell on the counting of votes alone and it is automated as well,” he said.

Sat was joined by German colleague Chris Donn, a tall guy with big, gray eyes. Smiling, Donn said “It’s (elections) really cool in here.”

The two held their cameras tight and from time to time asked strangers to take a photo of them inside the PICC Forum with busy Comelec officials, men in uniform, and embattled lawyers of candidates in the background.

“The election commissioners certainly made a lot of effort for all of this to work,” Donn said, “They are in the forefront of Southeast Asia when it comes to the elections.”

The two foreigners said they have visited poll precincts and find them “very big” compared to their respective countries.

Both only have one negative observation: “persons with disabilities are deprived” of honest and free elections.” There were no facilities for PWDs, especially the blind ones for them,” Sat said. “To be able to vote somebody has to do it for them, where’s the secrecy of the vote there,” Sat said.

Donn, for his part, said there should be a plan to properly educate voters with disabilities and also a plan for them to be able to vote freely with minimal assistance.

It turned out that the fascination rooted from experience, as the two admitted to have never encountered automated polls in Cambodia and Germany.

“The process is the same, we also have our precincts in schools and the canvassers are also teachers, but we still count the votes manually,” Sat said.

“We still have manual canvassing in Germany,” Donn said, “but the exit poll unofficial results done by the media are usually announced one minute after the precincts have closed, the official results come three days after.”

Comparing the two-weeklong manual canvassing of votes in the Philippines back in 2007 to Germany’s three-day canvass, Donn said that “the logistics are easier for Germany.” “It’s a small country with few islands.”

Sat and Donn are both election observers under the auspices of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), a private, non-profit organization which “supports citizens’ right to participate in free and fair elections”. IFES has election-related projects in the Philippines, including technical assistance to Comelec on doing the agency’s five-year plan and knowledge sharing through social media.

IFES had also supported “non-partisan” electoral civil society groups and their projects on voter’s education (even in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao), an auditing campaign financial reports of candidates.

Admitting to be in the Philippines for the first time, Sat said: “Your election is quite complicated.” “Many different issues are firing up,” Donn added.

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