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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Rigging the Ballot Box

Electoral reforms are going nowhere fast


JUST BEFORE THE PEOPLE Power revolution of 1986, tens of thousands of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila to protest ballot box lies. Their righteous outrage triggered a military revolt that swept Ferdinand Marcos from power and ushered in Corazon Aquino -- and supposedly a new age of fairness and honesty in electoral politics. But in the presidential polls of 1992, there were fresh allegations of cheating. Now, with 1998 elections looming, the coffee shop talk is again turning to speculation about poll fraud.

For starters, a number of well-meaning politicians believe that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is not up to its job of ensuring honesty next May 11. "This is a partial and flip-flopping Comelec," says lawyer Romeo Macalintal. In February, two independent-minded commissioners will retire, and President Fidel Ramos will fill the slots. Then the entire panel will be filled with his own appointees.

Suspicions were compounded when the poll body did not ask Congress for $57 million to provide voters with tamper-proof identification cards, as planned. "This is part of the conspiracy to cheat in the 1998 elections," says Sen. Orlando Mercado, an opposition party head. Counters Comelec Commissioner Regalado Maambong: "We are not mandated by the Constitution and laws to cheat. Our job is to conduct clean and honest elections." But it did not help public confidence when he added: "Not just the ruling party is in a position to cheat. Even the opposition party cheats."

The favorite fraud method remains the physical manipulation of the count. Because it is slow and tedious to tally the ballots manually -- in 1992 it took a month -- it is easy to add or subtract votes. Since no money was allotted to buy fast, ballot-counting computers, the process is once again wide open for abuse. Consider that next year there will be 50 names on each ballot. It will take human counters at least three minutes to tally each one; a computer can read 150 ballots in just one minute. Comelec officials say politicians nixed the computer purchase because it would make cheating too onerous.

The other way to fix elections is to add fictitious names to voters' lists. A 1996 law was to remedy this with a re-registration for all eligible voters. Good idea. Dubious timing. The first day, June 14, coincided with the NBA basketball championship game. On the second day, June 15, there was a boxing title match. Sports-crazed Filipinos stayed home rather than go register. On the remaining days, June 21 and 22, throngs trooped to precincts realizing it was their last chance. The result was mass confusion, a shortage of registration forms and a national list that may be padded.

Now Filipinos fear that fraud will determine who will be the next president. "People are tired of the cheating," says oppositionist and Senate President Ernesto Maceda. "They will not allow it to happen again." People power after next year's elections, anyone?

-- By Alexandra A. Seno and Antonio Lopez / Manila

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