Long wait follows Philippines vote

Signs that clan politics and cheating leading to growing apathy among voters.

    Filipinos are bracing for allegations of fraud as the lengthy manual count begins [Reuters]
    The elections had been billed as a vote of confidence in the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo after six years in power.
    But preliminary results and exit polls indicate it is likely to do little more than maintain the status quo.

    Voters have been generally unhappy with the unpopular president, but unofficial exit polls show she will retain control of congress where many of her administration’s key allies ran unopposed.
    Clan politics

     The election was billed by some as a referndum
    on Arroyo's presidency [Reuters]

    Analysts say much of the expected outcome is owned to the traditional prevalence of clan-politics institutionalising power in the hands of a small elite.
    In the Philippines there are no permanent political parties as might be familiar in other countries.
    Instead there are only shaky alliances and personal, or family, ties.
    Since democracy was re-established in 1986 with the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos, the number of political clans has only increased.
    Many of them have their own private armies despite this being declared illegal by the government.
    Arroyo herself comes from what has been dubbed a 'political dynasty'. Her father was president in the 1960s; now two of her sons are running for congress, as is a brother-in-law.
    According to one local watchdog lists there are now some 118 'political clans' across the country - families with multiple members in elected positions.
    Big business

    Thousands of election watchers are keeping 
    a close eye on the count [Reuters]

    Two-thirds of the nation’s legislators belong to a political clan, and more than half the electoral districts are controlled by them.
    In a nation where 40 per cent of the population still lives in poverty, politics is big business and in the halls of power there are many opportunities to make money for the enterprising.
    A recent report from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism noted that over the past 20 years politicians wealth has soared, with many of them worth millions of US dollars.
    It is no surprise then that politicians are perceived by many Filipinos as a greedy, unscrupulous lot.
    As a result, at the end of the day, it is the most popular personality that wins the vote. More often than not, he or she is related to a few other candidates too.
    But there are those wanting to break the political dynasties’ hold on power.
    In Arroyo’s home province of Pampanga, Catholic priest Eddie Panlilio is running for the gubernatorial seat against two candidates fielded by feuding political families.
    He has incurred the ire of religious leaders for breaching the separation of church and state, but he describes it as his "moral duty" to offer voters a fairer choice.
    Loss of faith
    Another issue driving a loss of faith in the electoral process is cheating. A local poll ahead of the election showed 7 out of 10 registered voters expected some form of cheating to occur.
    Christian Monsod, a former chairman of the national election commission, told Al Jazeera there was palpable apathy among voters ahead of Monday's poll, especially among the youth.
    That is dangerous ground for a fragile democracy like the Philippines.
    Monsod himself now heads a one million-strong volunteer election-watch force which hopes to go some way towards keeping some of the more brazen cheating in check.
    Addressing the problem though will require tackling some fundamental issues.
    Elections in the Philippines are a complex process still carried out by manual voting.
    Ballot papers are handed out with some 20 blank lines for voters to handwrite their selected candidates for the various positions.
    A sizeable proportion of voters, particularly in poorer areas, are illiterate and there is a long history of vote buying, and other methods to influence the vote.
    Most here believe electoral fraud can only be stemmed if the process becomes automated.
    This will cost millions of dollars and so far election officials say they are not satisfied with the automated systems that have been proposed to them.
    With the lengthy manual count now under way, closely watched by thousands of election monitors, official results from the vote will not be available until mid-June.
    In the meantime the attention and media focus on the recent violence has illustrated to the Filipino public that a change has to be made – not just in the electoral process – but in their very attitude towards it as well.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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