Foreign Observers Witness Election Cheating

Reports reaching the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) show foreign observers witnessing incidents of cheating, voters’ disenfranchisement and other election violations.

Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 15 May 20-26, 2007

Not since the snap presidential elections of 1986 have Philippine elections attracted a big number of international observers as this week’s polls. The May 14 mid-term elections were witnessed throughout the country by about 250 foreign observers coming from 24 countries. More than a third of them came from the United States, which sent 81 observers.

A number of them have observed elections in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and other countries torn by armed conflicts or classified as “emerging democracies.”

Aside from the U.S., countries represented by the foreign observers included Canada (North America); the United Kingdom (Britain and Scotland), France, Germany, Norway, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Belgium, Denmark (Europe); Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Myanmar, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia (Asia and Oceania); Colombia and Venezuela (Latin America).

The foreign observers came in groups, some of which have monitored elections in several countries including flashpoints as Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, Kampuchea, Liberia, Nepal and even the U.S. for the past several years. Among the groups are the European Commission, the USAID, National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), Asia Foundation, Friedrich Naumann, the People’s International Observers Mission (P-IOM) and the Compact for Clean and Honest Elections (Compact). They monitored elections in many provinces including “hot spots” in Northern and Central Luzon, Southern Luzon particularly the Bicol region, Western and Central Visayas and Mindanao provinces such as Compostela Valley, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Sharif Kabungsuan.

Reports reaching the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) show foreign observers witnessing incidents of cheating, voters’ disenfranchisement and other election violations. Members of the P-IOM told reporters that they were stopped and interrogated at military checkpoints in Nueva Ecija, Cebu and other provinces.

The interest in the Philippine elections can be attributed to perceptions in many foreign countries about the rigged elections in 2004 which precipitated two impeachment complaints against the incumbent President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and widespread calls for her resignation. Political instability was further fueled by charges of human rights violations against the President over unmitigated extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances, the latest victim of which is Jonas Burgos, son of press freedom icon Jose Burgos, Jr. The politically-motivated killings have drawn the concerns of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), U.S. Congress, European Parliament, European Union, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, several foreign governments as well as international rights watchdogs and church and faith communities.

Although an objective of foreign monitoring of elections in many countries is to determine whether or not polls are conducted “fairly and democratically” and hence ensure people’s participation in public governance, foreign monitoring missions could have other agenda. The foreign observers in the May 14 elections have quite a broad array of background and profiles. Among them are diplomatic officials, parliamentarians and members of political parties and think-tanks. There are also lawyers, educators, journalists, civil libertarians, human rights advocates and artists.

Foreign observers sent by embassies or grouped under institutions funded by their own governments are usually more concerned with using the elections as a yardstick for mapping out a political and risk analysis of the country. Elections provide them a lens through which they can measure the stability of a country’s political institutions which include government leadership. Others have the immediate concerns about future economic opportunities in the Philippines – or lack of it – that the electoral exercise will be able to offer. How the elections open a democratic space for the poor through their party-list groups to push for social and economic reform is also another concern.

One of the active observers but is keeping a low profile in the elections is the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a quasi-government agency of the U.S. government. NDI’s headquarters is in Washington, DC and has field offices in some 70 countries. It conducts democratic development programs in some 112 countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Ukraine, Myanmar, East Timor, El Salvador, Mozambique, Uganda, Indonesia, Nepal, Venezuela, Colombia, and the Philippines.

In the Philippines, NDI started a program in 2003 “to help promote democratic governance” in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) where it also collaborates with local government units, Municipal Peace and Order Councils and the Philippine National Police on public safety issues.

NDI, which is believed to be associated with the Democratic Party in the U.S., has Madeleine Albright. former U.S. Secretary of State, as its board chair. The institute was created by the U.S. government through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), said to be a semi-government arm of the U.S. State Department with funds sourced from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Created by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, the NED has been cited as either interfering in the affairs of other countries or funding candidates who support pro-U.S. corporations and have strong ties with the military. Often quoted is a statement by Allen Weinstein, who helped establish the NED, in a 1991 interview with the Washington Post: “A lot of what we do today [at the NED] was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), which is also based in Washington, DC, claims to be the world’s leading election assistance organization. Founded in 1987, IFES has worked in more than 100 countries including the Philippines where it assists the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in its modernization program, electoral law reform, voters’ education and provides sub-grants to local NGOs engaged in electoral reform.

IFES has bilateral and multilateral funders that include the USAID, state governments in the U.S., as well as Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Department for International Development (DFID-United Kingdom), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (Japan), Norwegian Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and several others.

The European Commission (EC) is the executive branch or the “public service” arm of the European Union (EU). The EC represents the EU in 120 countries including the Philippines. The EC Delegation, a diplomatic mission, was opened in the Philippines in 1991 to coordinate official development assistance (ODA) from EU countries.

The foreign observers’ missions were fielded on election day and a couple of days after that. One of the groups, the P-IOM, has already released its initial findings on the elections on May 18. Others are expected to present theirs in the immediate future.(

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