Notes from the Field

Bayang Declares First Successful Election Since 2001

June 25, 2010

In the Philippines on June 3, special elections were held in seven towns in the southern Lanao del Sur province, and in some other areas predominately in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The regularly scheduled national elections, held on May 10, had been declared as “failed” in these towns. As noted during the 2007 general elections, clan conflict over political power regularly overwhelms the electoral system in the ARMM; indeed, the vast majority of voters who experience “failed elections” are in the ARMM.

Philippine election

Representatives from the locally-based organization, Mindanao Dynamic Culture of Peace, were accredited as election monitors through the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting and helped monitor the June 3 special elections in Bayang.

Bayang was among the seven towns forced to hold special elections, even though the peace convention held there last February had seemed successful: it had culminated in local candidates signing a covenant promising to support a peaceful and honest electoral process. The sincerity of these candidates was put to test when voters experienced machine glitches during the May 10 elections. Most of the working machines were strategically placed in polling stations favoring one candidate, and tension among political supporters quickly mounted. In an effort to diffuse this tension and protect the credibility of the election process, a gunshot was fired. Two civilians were injured when the bullet accidentally went through a house located near the polling precinct.

But despite reports in some towns of fraud and violence elsewhere during the June 3 special elections (including some reports that a baby died from stray bullets during a shootout), the polls in Bayang, in the past marred by fistfights among political supporters and gunfights between opposing clans, proceeded peacefully. The success of the special elections can be attributed to the intense involvement of local traditional and religious leaders who campaigned tirelessly for peaceful elections, says Sowaib Campong, executive director of the Mindanao Dynamic for Culture of Peace (MIDCOP), The Asia Foundation’s local partner NGO. These leaders were seen roaming the small, historic town two days before the special election day, reminding citizens to observe the vows of the peace covenant and renounce any acts of violence before, during, and after the election period. Meanwhile, local leaders also met with the military to discuss protocol in case tension occurred in the polling stations. The peace convention not only facilitated a renewed commitment among the local candidates of Bayang, but also encouraged citizen participation in ensuring credible and peaceful elections in their hometown.

The Asia Foundation has recognized the important role that traditional and religious leaders can play in addressing conflicts and building peace in areas like Bayang. Conflict resolutions initiatives, such as community-level conflict settlements and peace agreements organized by these leaders, were supported by the Foundation. In localities within the ARMM, these leaders have very strong influence in socio-political affairs, and are well placed to address and mitigate election-related conflicts that may result in violence within the community. In Bayang in particular, the Foundation supported the intensive negotiations and dialogues among feuding clans and opposing political families conducted by the key leaders prior to the holding of the peace convention last February.

Bayang is perennially on the “election watch list” of areas in the Philippines that need special attention due to the occurrence of violence and election irregularities committed every election. Since 2001, incidents of violence, including sporadic exchange of gunshots from opposing political families, burning down of houses and public schools, perceived threats of ballot snatching, verbal exchange of provocative statements, and fistfights among political supporters in the polling precincts have been cited as usual occurrences during the elections. This violence is usually spawned by rido or clan feuding, mostly due to political rivalry. These political rivalries, which intensify during every election, have resulted in the deaths and injuries of civilians and prompted most of the locals to leave the area for fear of being caught in the periodic exchange of reprisals between clans.

Nonetheless, the victories reaped from the peace convention illustrate the determination of the people of Bayang to counteract the culture of violence that has historically afflicted their hometown. In addition, the success of the special elections reveal the vast potential for religious and traditional leaders to respond to socio-political issues and development initiatives that can affect the lives of Muslims as a whole.

Hyro Domado is The Asia Foundation’s Assistant Program Officer for the Conflict Management Program in the Philippines. She can be reached at hyro@asiafound.org.

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