Winning the war against democracy
NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.3, No.1
by Amina Rasul, Member, NAMFREL National
President, Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID)
A month has passed since the May 13 midterm elections in the
Philippines. While the elections were orderly and peaceful, there have been many
reported incidents that have marred the electoral process. For instance, as
NAMFREL and other watchdogs had warned, a significant number of PCOS machines
malfunctioned. COMELEC Chair Brillantes has said, “we may not pay the entire
amount if we can show that the problems and defects were from Smartmatic." 258
out of the 78,000 PCOS machines used in the polls bogged down. The report of the
Random Manual Audit (RMA), which should have been done on election night, has
not been released yet even though the sample of 234 precincts is a small one.
Fears, that the results may be “massaged”, are not allayed by the non-reporting
of the RMA results. However, the automated counting system has made wholesale
cheating more difficult, particularly the “dagdag-bawas” (adding-subtracting
votes from the official tallies) that used to plague the counting of votes.
The decades old problems of crowded classrooms and securing the secrecy of the
ballot remain headaches. Turn out among the Philippines' 52 million voters was
around 75%. Armed groups still harassed voters in the declared hot-spots,
vote-buying remained rampant in many areas.
At the national level, we saw a loose pro-government alliance win enough seats
to continue dominating both houses. Despite the reported incidents, most of the
electoral results including the national senatorial elections are not being
contested. Thus, it can be said that the Philippine elections went relatively
well. However, this observation does not negate the need to improve the conduct
of our elections, to safeguard the will of the people and the democratic
process. Perhaps, we can look to our neighboring countries experiences and gain
The Pakistan elections of May 11 were clearly the triumph of the forces of
democracy, in spite of the violence that marred the electoral process.
I was part of the leadership group of the joint election
observation mission of the National Democratic Institute
(NDI) and the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL). The
leadership delegation, led by former Prime Minister of
Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik, included former Minister of
Justice of Ireland Nora Owen, former U.S. congressman for
Missouri Russ Carnahan, NDI's Vice President Shari Bryan and
NDI Director for Asia Programs Peter Manikas. I represented
NAMFREL and ANFREL.
The mission consisted of 48 observers from 18 countries.
From ANFREL, the countries included Indonesia, Malaysia,
Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Philippines.
Our observers were deployed to Islamabad and three provinces
- Punjab, Sindh and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).
Ms. Rasul (4th from left) with international election observers
from ANFREL and NDI
Due to security concerns, we were unable to directly observe
the process in Balochistan and the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas (FATA). However, we were able to meet with
candidates, parties and nongovernmental organizations in
those areas. Hour long conference calls were organized with
leaders who could not be in Islamabad due to their campaign.
After five days observing the elections in Pakistan, I can
safely say that the process was a momentous victory of the
people’s political will against extremist groups that warred
against democracy. The elections also resulted in several
historic firsts. Allow me to relate what I had observed.
While Islamabad was free from electoral violence, the
tension level was high due to daily news about bombings,
assassinations and constant threats from the Pakistan
Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan). These did not deter the
people, particularly the young and women, from campaigning.
On Election Day, Pakistani youth and women showed up in
record numbers, defying the threats made by the Taliban.
The Pakistan Taliban had targeted political parties
associated with the previous government: the Pakistan
People’s Party (PPP) and its main coalition partners, the
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party
(ANP). President Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of the late
Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated on December 27, 2007,
leads PPP. The United Nations (UN) recorded 196 deaths due
to election-related violence, including at least seven
candidates, from March 16, when the National Assembly was
May 7. The Taliban had distributed a written threat against
all individuals intending to vote, stating that elections
were un-Islamic. The Taliban threat and the campaign
violence resulted to low turnout in the conflict-affected
areas of Balochistan and FATA.
At stake were 272 general seats in the National Assembly as
well 60 seats reserved for women, and ten seats reserved for
non-Muslims. At the provincial level, 577 general seats were
contested in the four Provincial Assemblies together with
128 seats reserved for women, and 23 seats reserved for
The 2013 elections have set the stage for the country’s
first transfer of power from one democratically elected
government to the next. This will be the first time, after 6
decades, that an administration will have completed its term
of office and will be succeeded through a democratic
electoral process.. Tens of millions of Pakistanis
participated and expressed their support for the democratic
process by voting despite the threats of the Taliban. The
Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) estimated voter
turnout around 60 percent.
The Pakistani voters’ courage and resolve, particularly the
young and the women, reminded me of the political will of
our own nation during the campaign and election of our icon
of democracy, the late former President Corazon C. Aquino.
As our NDI-ANFREL statement noted, “in casting their ballots
despite the mounting violence was a victory for democracy
and the people of Pakistan.”
I was amazed by the number of women who ran for office, in
spite of the Taliban threat against women candidates and
voters. A total of 456 women ran for seats in the National
Assembly and Provincial Assemblies, which is more than twice
as many women candidates from the 2008 general elections.
This included the lone female candidate in FATA. Though
numerically higher, women candidates constituted only 2.9
percent of the total number of candidates running for
For the first time in their history, a woman ran for a seat
in the conflict-affected area of FATA. Nusrat Begum, the
first female parliamentary candidate from that tribal
region, knew fully well the overwhelming obstacles she had
to face. Ubiquitously accompanied by her son or another
male family member, Begum campaigned "to give women their
rights, the rights that they deserve." Even though she
eventually lost by a huge margin, Begun made her presence
felt in a Taliban-dominated region.
More parties and candidates participated in these elections
than in the previous general elections. In Balochistan,
parties that boycotted the 2008 elections reentered the
electoral process and, for the first time in the nation’s
history, political parties fielded candidates in FATA.
A crucial factor in the success of the electoral process has
been the cooperation of the government and the political
parties to improve the legal framework for the elections.
Their cooperation resulted in the selection of a Chief
Election Commissioner (CEC), a unanimous choice of the
parties, and the establishment of a framework for
designating national and provincial caretaker governments.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), even as it has
been criticized for its actions (or inaction) on several
matters including the electoral violence, did enjoy a
high-level of public confidence. The ECP cleaned the voters’
list and developed a database of voters, which could be
accessed by mobile phone to provide the voter information on
their assigned precincts. This innovation is certainly worth
emulating by the Philippine COMELEC. Perhaps Globe and SMART
can consider following the example of the Pakistani
telephone companies, providing free-of-charge SMS for the
voters. I was particularly impressed by the excitement and
will of the young Pakistanis. In one polling station where I
was observing the canvass and taking pictures, a young man
asked us to take his photo. He was a watcher for the PTI,
the party of Pakistani cricket legend Imran Khan who has
attracted the young by his campaign of “Change” (ala Obama).
I thought that was a strange request, as election agents
normally don't want their photos taken by observers. The
young man said he wanted proof of his participation in an
election that he believed would change Pakistan for the
To him and the millions who braved the threat against their
lives, I pay tribute. The Pakistani people have spoken. I
can only pray that their political will remains strong and
constant, as the electoral process is only the first step on
the difficult road to democracy.
On June 6, a smooth and peaceful democratic transition
transpired from President Zardari to Nawaz Sharif. As
Zardari the oath of the office of Prime Minister to Sharif,
the Pakistani people can only hope that reforms will take
place to strengthen the democracy they had worked so hard
If the Pakistani people will stay united behind their
proposed reform of the political institutions, then they
will have proved Aristotle right when he said, “In a
democracy the poor will have more power than the rich,
because there are more of them, and the will of the majority
If not, and if reforms do not take root, then Bertrand
Russell will be proved correct when he observed, “Democracy
is the process by which people choose the man who'll get the
(Read the preliminary statement of the joint NDI-ANFREL
international election observation mission to Pakistan here: