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The NAMFREL Model

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A team of political and election specialists from NDI and what is now the International Republican Institute (IRI), visited the Philippines before the 1986 presidential election to assess the feasibility of mounting a credible international observer effort. The team's most productive and impressive meetings were held with the leaders of the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), an organization formed 30 months earlier to promote electoral reform and to monitor elections. Unlike the many Filipinos who opposed participation in elections run by President Ferdinand Marcos, NAMFREL activists encouraged public involvement in the process as a vehicle for restoring democracy in their country. To this end, approximately 500,000 volunteers were recruited, trained and mobilized to monitor polling sites throughout the Philippine archipelago on election day.

Despite its initial reluctance, the team recommended that both institutes organize an international observer delegation based largely on the positive impression created by NAMFREL. Specifically, in developing a plan of action for the international observers, NDI and IRI relied on NAMFREL volunteers throughout the country to furnish information about political developments and to identify problem areas. NAMFREL’s “operation quick count,” which sought to collect and tabulate actual election results from all of the more than 85,000 polling sites, provided an essential mechanism for exposing the inaccuracy of the official results announced by the government-controlled Commission on Elections (COMELEC). The international observers, meanwhile, provided much needed support to NAMREL both before and after the election, when COMELEC sought to revoke NAMFREL’s accreditation and when the government alleged that NAMFREL pollwatchers acted in a partisan manner.

The NAMFREL monitoring operation identified and highlighted the electoral abuses committed by supporters of the incumbent president, and reported results suggesting victory by Marcos’ opponent Corazon Aquino. Consequently, a majority of the Philippine population and the international community rejected the official results reported by COMELEC. A military revolt supported by large segments of the public, coupled with international pressure, provoked Marcos to relinquish power and leave the Philippines for exile in the United States less than three weeks after the election.


   
 

Building upon the NAMFREL Experience

 
 

Following adoption of a new Philippine constitution in February 1987, legislative elections were scheduled for May of that year. NDI utilized the May polling to familiarize democratic activists in other countries with the Philippine experience. The activists, from nine countries, made up NDI’s 24-member international observer delegation.

 

These delegates studied the work of NAMFREL and many returned home to initiate similar activities in their countries. While some efforts proved more successful than others, the strategy of mobilizing volunteers for a first election and developing nonpartisan approaches to political involvement has provided considerable momentum to democratic tendencies, even where immediate gains are less than obvious.

   
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  An Excerpt from "How Domestic Organizations Monitor Elections: An A to Z Guide" (National Democratic Institute, 1995)
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