MANILA — By April 14, the latest date for which figures are available, 38 election candidates had been killed during the January to mid-April campaign period, according to Felix Vargas, spokesman for the government’s task force on elected government officials. The figure does not include campaign workers and candidates’ assistants who were killed. Professor Rommel C Banlaoi, the director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR), told Asia Times Online that “cases of election related killings from the use of illegally armed groups have been recorded and to date numbers more than 100” The Maguindanao atrocity was the largest recorded mass killing of journalists in a single incident. The massacre was carried out to deter an opposition clan, the Mangudadatu family, from running in the elections against the government-backed Ampatuan clan. This case and other, less well-known clashes in the southern Philippines and elsewhere illustrate how elections raise the stakes for volatile local bigwig rivalries
MANILA — In a first for The Philippines – a country with intermittent electricity supply and a history of electoral fraud – a computerised system is being used instead of the manual count used in most other countries. Despite 11th-hour glitches that meant the recall and re-programming of 76000 flash cards used to scan votes, the election commission (Comelec) remains confident that “the elections will go through”, according to Comelec chair Jose Melo. It is still not clear, however, whether the equipment will be ready and distributed across the whole archipelago in time. The election commission nonetheless is resisting calls from candidates and media to conduct a manual count in parallel and as a back-up to the computerised alternative, as Filipinos prepare to vote for a successor to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, choosing from 3 main contenders have been described as a saint, a CEO and a movie star. The ‘saint’ in question is Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, son of former President and democracy icon Cory, who died in August 2009.
BANGKOK — Most of Southeast Asia has experienced military rule at some stage since the colonial era ended, and the political role of the region’s military institutions has shaped and influenced politics right up to the present day. The often-decisive interventions of the military in national politics have restricted the development of democracy, freedom of speech and human rights in many countries. In 2008, of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), only Indonesia was deemed a fully free country by the US-based Freedom House, an NGO that monitors democracy and human rights. Implicitly, a behind-the-scenes power-brokering process played by powerful military elites in Southeast Asian countries is a key factor in inhibiting democratic development across the region. At a September conference at the Institute for Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, these issues were discussed by scholars examining civil-military relations in Burma, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. In Southeast Asia, Burma stands out, however, due to the longevity of military rule and the entrenchment of the army in all sectors of society and the economy. ISIS Director Thitinan Pongsudhirak remarked that in 1960, Burma was a democracy, having the highest GDP per capita in the region and with a relatively-advanced economy and noted education sector. However, these days, the entrenchment of military rule is so thorough, it is more appropriate to use the term “military-civil relations,” according to Win Min, a Thailand-based Burmese scholar.
SINGAPORE – Chaos caused by red and yellow clad protestors in Thailand over the past few years must have evoked bittersweet memories for Philippine activists, who donned the same team colors when red pro- and yellow anti-regime protesters took to the streets and brought down Ferdinand Marcos’ authoritarian government in 1986. The Philippines and Thailand have often been cited for their close political parallels, with both home to thriving civil societies but with political power dominated by traditional political elites. Both are fragile democracies, with a history of political instability, that are trying to leave their martial law baggage behind.
DILI — Since the 14th Philippine Congress opened in July 2007, over 30 measures aimed at revising the post-revolutionary 1987 Constitution have been proposed, the dry legality often offset by catchy acronym nicknames such as ‘CON-ASS’, ‘CON-CON’ and ‘CHA-CHA’. These have provided rich pickings for tabloid headline writers and online rabble rousers, with one such item now doing the cyber-rounds listing the “CON-ASS-HOLES” who backed the latest move to change the constitution. The item refers to those in Congress who on June 2 voted in favor of Resolution 1109, which would allow the lower house of representatives to vote itself into a so-called constituent assembly (CON-ASS) — without the support of the upper house, or Senate. CON-ASS, it is believed, will pave the way for constitutional or charter change (CHA-CHA), a move that could enable President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to extend her term in office beyond the six years mandated by the current constitution.