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Aquino Ahead, But Automation Woes Still Cloud Philippine Election

May 7, 2010

48 hours before the polls open on Monday, May 10, the Philippines is taking a deep breath before the big plunge. On Friday afternoon the Supreme Court held a special session and dismissed 11th-hour petitions to halt the elections due to concerns over the need to replace faulty memory cards in the 80,000 voting machines. Now, the candidates are all holding their final rallies (known as miting de avance) at which festivities overshadow any concerns over real issues.

The Noynoy Aquino camp remains tense, despite his wide lead in all the polls (at 42 percent, according to Social Weather Station’s final poll). One worry is for their Vice Presidential candidate, Mar Roxas, who is now tied in the polls with Makati Mayor Binay. A number of advertisements have come out for “NoyBi” (votes are separately cast for president and vice president), so the Aquino campaign has had to reiterate that “NoyMar” is their official slate, not least because Noynoy wants to give Mar a significant partnership role (Roxas was in the cabinet as Secretary of Trade in Industry on two occasions, so he has significant executive experience). Roxas points out that the surveys showing the two tied came out before the influential Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) endorsed him along with Noynoy. Some dispute the effect of such endorsements by religious groups, but the INC endorsement probably will add hundreds of thousands of votes.

However, a lead of only a few percentage points may cause problems, given doubts about the new Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) technology. A serious bug was detected in final testing on Monday, May 3 – quickly diagnosed by computer technicians, 76,000 compact flash cards were re-programmed by Friday but the challenge getting them back to the machines in precincts throughout the archipelago by Monday looms large. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) claims 98 percent readiness, but there have reportedly been some delays. Threats such as attacks by the communist New People’s Army and incidents of a local candidate putting spikes on a road have been reported. “Netizens” are ready to use the Internet to map problems in the elections.

In the face of all this, turnout is expected to be high (75 to 80 percent), and unlike in the United Kingdom, voters in long queues will be allowed to vote even after the scheduled close of polling. Overseas voting turnout is running ahead of the last election and the large community of American Filipinos is following events closely. Check back here on Wednesday, May 12, for an update on election results, 48 hours after voters head to the polls.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative for the Philippines and Pacific Island Nations. He can be reached at srood@asiafound.org.

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