Saturday, April 10, 2010

Low turnout marks Day 1 of OAV polls in HK, Singapore

04/10/2010 | 08:32 PM

Original Story:

Less than one percent of the over 120,000 registered Filipino voters in Hong Kong and Singapore on Saturday took a first crack at automated polls in these areas to elect the candidates for national posts, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Saturday.

Around 1,000 of the 95,355 registered Filipino voters in Hong Kong went to the Bayanihan Kennedy Town Center there to cast their votes during the first day of the overseas automated polls in China’s most renowned special region, the DFA said in its website.

Comelec Commissioner Armando Velasco, head of the poll body’s committee on overseas absentee voting (OAV), meanwhile told GMANews.TV in a phone interview that in the island city-state of Singapore, only 200 of 31,851 registered voters cast their votes in the Philippine Embassy there on Saturday.

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Velasco however said that the voter turnout would definitely rise on Sunday, when most of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in these areas have their days off.

“Talagang dadagsa ang mga tao para bumoto kasi karamihan ng OFWs, walang trabaho ng Linggo (People will really troop to vote since most OFWs are off-work on Sundays)," he said.

Velasco likewise said he expects the turnout for this year’s OAV to be higher compared to the previous poll in 2007, since OFWs want to participate in selecting the Philippines’ next president. The last presidential election was in 2004.

“I think many will go out and vote. Our OFWs’ votes are very important in choosing our next leaders. These votes can even make or break the country’s future," he said.

Absentee voting for Filipinos abroad will end on May 10.

Ballot rejected in Singapore

Velasco, who is in Singapore to oversee the voting there, said the first day of automated voting for Filipinos in the island city-state went smoothly, except in one instance when a ballot was rejected by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine.

“Wala naman masyadong naging problema. May isang ballot lang na nireject. Inaalam pa ng Board of Election Inspectors kung bakit nireject, pero baka nagkaroon ng stray markings (We didn’t encounter a lot of problems. Only one ballot was rejected. The BEI is still studying why it was rejected, but perhaps it was due to stray markings)," he said.

The Comelec commissioner added that no problems occurred in filling out ballots since voters were given instructions on how to vote before entering the polling area.

He noted, however, that some voters took ten minutes before they could accomplish their ballots.

“Hindi pa sila decided kung sino iboboto. Binabasa pa ‘yung balota bago bumoto (They were not decided yet who to vote for. They were going through the ballot first before they voted)," he said.

Velasco appealed to OFWs to bring with them their prepared list of chosen candidates, to shorten the time they spend in filling out ballots.

Missing names in Hong Kong

GMA News reporter Chino Gaston meanwhile said in a television report that overseas voting in Hong Kong was “smooth-sailing," although some Filipino voters in the territory found their names missing from the Certified List of Overseas Absentee Voters (CLOAV).

At least two OFW voters, including Mark Vincent who was able to vote in the last two elections, could not cast their votes because their names were not on the CLOAV for Hong Kong, Gaston reported.

Poll watchdog Kontra Daya blamed the Comelec for the problem on delisted voters, saying that the problem can reduce the voter turnout in Hong Kong if not promptly solved.

“Delays in looking for names in the certified list of absentee voters that could have been made simpler if OFWs are allowed to do it earlier can easily become a source of jam in the traffic of people in Bayanihan. This, in turn, can greatly reduce the potential turnout in Hong Kong," the group said in a statement posted on its website.

The group urged the poll body to immediately solve the problem, especially with the higher number of OFWs expected to troop to the polling area on Sunday.

“Until the last vote is counted and the winners are declared, the Comelec must not get too excited and celebrate prematurely. There are still 29 days ahead for the OAV and their overconfidence can make them even more laid back than before in really making sure that voting goes smoothly. OFWs are vigilant and we expect no less from the Comelec," the group said.

Going smoothly

Aside from the automated polls in Singapore and Hong Kong, manual absentee voting in the Philippines’ 93 embassies and consulates general around the world also “commenced smoothly," the DFA said.

In the Pacific island nation of Palau, for instance, 36-year old Noel Reyes, a Physics teacher, became the first OFW in the Northern Pacific to manually cast his vote, according to the DFA.

In the Philippine Embassy in Beijing, a total of seven people had already cast their votes shortly before the polling area was closed at 4 p.m. there.

According to DFA records, a total of 589,830 Filipinos abroad are registered for the OAV.

Republic Act 9189 or the OAV Act of 2003 provides for the holding of overseas absentee voting for OFWs, either personally or by mail.—With Tiffany Tan in Beijing/JV, GMANews.TV

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