By Carlos H. Conde
International Herald Tribune
Published: May 27, 2007
MANILA: Two weeks after Filipinos went to the polls to elect members of Congress and local officials, millions of votes remain uncounted while allegations of widespread fraud favoring the political allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo continue to surface, election officials and opposition members say.
On Saturday, sporadic violence and charges of fraud marred special elections that were held in 13 towns in a southern province, where the initial vote had been declared flawed. The votes from that province, Lanao del Sur, totaling nearly 100,000, are enough to determine the outcome of the race for the 12 Senate seats, officials said. The special elections were called because of the high level of violence and vote fraud that occurred in the region during the midterm elections.
As of Saturday, official counts for the May 14 elections showed that three candidates closely linked to the government were winning for the 12 positions in the Senate. But Arroyo’s allies overwhelmingly dominated the congressional race, while her supporters took the lead in most local elections, officials said.
Filipinos voted for 12 of 24 Senate seats, 275 members of the House of Representatives and officials for more than 17,000 positions at the provincial, city and municipal level on May 14.
The elections were violent, with more than 130 people killed in attacks since the beginning of the campaign on Jan. 14. No one was reported killed in the weekend violence.
Votes from several provinces, estimated to be more than four million, have yet to be counted, because the tabulation is being done manually in many provinces.
Allegations of cheating have hampered the count, and the Commission on Elections, the government body that runs elections, has postponed declaring some winners or, in some instances, declared a failure of elections in areas like the southern towns that held fresh voting on Saturday.
Although many winners in the local votes have been named, the electoral commission is waiting for the results of the special elections and the complete nationwide vote count to announce the winners of the Senate seats. Officials estimate that the national vote count will take another week.
Lente, an election monitoring group whose members are mainly lawyers, said a teacher in the southern province of Maguindanao had said teachers were told how to vote at gunpoint. Teachers traditionally staff the polls and manually count the ballots. Lente said candidates loyal to the government had swept the senatorial elections in Maguindanao, prompting complaints of fraud from the opposition.
Vote buying and tampering with ballots and tabulation forms are among the most reported claims of election fraud. Parties loyal to the government have challenged the opposition’s claims. Ben Evardone, a spokesman for Team Unity, the coalition party allied with the government, said the opposition was worried because “it is just about to exhaust its bailiwicks.” On the other hand, his party, he said, “has several provincial votes to bank on.”