NEVER SINCE THE SNAP ELECTIONS OF 1986 has there been an electoral exercise as critical as the forthcoming polls eight days from now. This is the opportunity we have been waiting for to forge an orderly transfer of power, and to restore our trust in the leadership of our nation and in our savaged democratic institutions.
Pitfalls and glitches. This desideratum is however blurred by many serious logistical pitfalls and automation glitches. Even the Commission on Elections admits that various problems could occur in as much as 30 percent of the total votes.
Indeed, difficulties and delays, there will most certainly be. This is the first ever attempt by any country in the world to metamorphose from full manual to full automated count nationwide in just one jump. Other countries automated their election systems, but they did it in many phases over many years. Too, their ballots were short. But ours is 28 inches long and has to be filled back-to-back. It is a sure entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
Yet, our Comelec had less than one year to prepare. Worse, it has neither been efficient nor careful in its preparations. If the poll body can pull this electoral exercise seamlessly, it would bedazzle the whole world with a major miracle. And I would be among the first to clap in relief and jubilation.
From glitches to holdover. I can grant Comelec’s boast that there would be no total failure of election nationwide. But, like many people, what I fear are the many logistical and technical glitches in many parts of the country that, put together, would prevent the proclamation of the presidential and vice presidential winners when the lead of the leading candidate over the second best would be less than the number of uncounted ballots. This gridlock could eventually lead to a holdover presidency for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, or worse, to a military power grab.
Let me lay out a few thoughts on how to fight, or at least, how to minimize the occurrence of a “no-proc” and a holdover presidency, or military rule. First, let the presidential victor win overwhelmingly. Should the votes garnered by the leading candidate over the next bet be more than the “glitched” votes, a proclamation of the winner would be inevitable. For example, if the lead of candidate A over candidate B is 10 million while the total of the questioned ballots is only 8 million, the leading bet will be proclaimed.
Stated differently, this election is not just a personal contest among the candidates. It is also (if not more so) a battle for democracy. If the election fails, we would have no new president and the old one may decide to stay and hold over indefinitely. More important than the election of any particular candidate is the triumph of democracy over the dark forces of status quo.
Horrendous landslide. Hence, let us vote for the presidential candidate with the best chances of winning, even if he (or she) may not be our first choice, so that the margin of victory would be so overwhelming that glitches here and there would not matter. A huge landslide will also wipe out the effects of cheating and manipulation.
Second, let us do the same for the vice presidential race. If the election of a new president is skewed but a new VP is overwhelmingly elected and proclaimed, then the latter can act as president while the presidential race is sorted out.
Third, let us also elect at least some senators overwhelmingly. Once proclaimed, these senators could immediately take office and help the remaining 12 senators whose terms would expire only in 2013 form a quorum to elect a new Senate president who could become acting president, if no new president and vice president are proclaimed.
The immediate election of new senators is needed to foil the legal theory that under the present Constitution, the Senate is no longer a continuing legislative body because the 12 remaining senators do not constitute a quorum, unlike under the old Constitution, in which only eight of the 24 senators are elected every two years thereby assuring a continuing quorum with the remaining 16 senators.
Fourth, let reputable polling organizations, like SWS and Pulse Asia, conduct exit polls and release their results immediately, even before the results of the automated elections, which per the Comelec, will be delayed. The Supreme Court in ABS-CBN Broadcasting vs. Comelec (Jan. 28, 2000) has categorically declared exit polls constitutional. Once credible exit polls show an insurmountable lead by the winning president, any manipulation of the automated count would become extremely difficult.
Fifth, let the election watchdogs, whether accredited or not by Comelec, conduct independent counts, and guard the polls to prevent cheating. Automation may speed up the results but will not stop “guns, goons and gold.”
Sixth, let us be wary of massive disenfranchisement. Voters should be very patient while waiting their turns to vote. Expect long queues at the precincts. Under the old manual system, there were only a maximum of 200 voters per precinct. Now, as many as 1,000 electors in the clustered precincts would be waiting to feed their ballots to the PCOS machines. Many machines will malfunction; let us wait for their replacements.
Let not the summer heat and the exasperating foibles of automation flabbergast us. Let us wait for our turn, no matter how long and how exhausting. This is our sacrifice for democracy and for our long-awaited opportunity to change our leaders peacefully.
* * *