Foreign observers: May 14 polls ‘too complex,’ prone to fraud

Prof. Gill Boehringer, an Australian, said it is probably the most  complicated, the most concerning, and the most tragic not only on  people's lives but also to money spending and mental health.

At least 126 deaths were reported to be election related since the  campaign period.

Boehringer said he has observed elections in Australia, United States,  East Africa, and in Belfast in Northern Ireland.

The foreigners' observations were aired in a press conference  Wednesday, the same day President Arroyo told international press the  "the elections were good, peaceful, free and fair."

Boehringer heads one of the teams in the 26-member International  Observers Mission who arrived in the country before election day.  

The professor's six-member team — composed of representatives from  Australia, South Korea, The Netherlands, and Scotland — observed the  holding of elections in two towns in Compostela Valley.

Boehringer said there has been a pattern of violations and violence  around the country during the election period. "And we found specific  incidents of these patterns," he told reporters in the press  conference held a day after the two-day monitor in the towns of  Pantukan and New Bataan.

Boehringer, who teaches history and philosophy of laws and criminology  at the Macquarie University in Sydney, cited the unchecked military  intervention in the election process as not democratic and thus the  greatest concern the mission would like to raise over the elections.

He stressed the overbearing presence of the Armed Forces in Compostela  Valley. The military sent at least 1,400 troops to the province after  one of its towns, Monkayo, was declared under Comelec control for at  least five election related deaths in the run up to May 14.

The whole province was declared an election immediate area of concern  for alleged threats of attacks by the communist rebels.  

Boehringer cited the actions taken by the military, such as openly campaigning against party list groups believed to be working for the  rebels, as a threat to the democratic exercise of elections.

"The country's leadership should make it very clear that the AFP  should not be involved in politicking," he said.
British national Sandy Jones noted that it would be presumptuous for  them to be giving advises to the Philippine government when they were  only here for a short period.

He said, however, that their observations speak of what they saw,  saying those are things "very easy for foreigners to see."  

Jones maintained the team is non-partisan and objective in their mission when asked about neutrality. The group was brought by People's Net, an anti-election fraud and violence network including groups supportive of party list aspirants Bayan Muna and others.

Dutch national Shadi Gilani said the election process is "very complex," citing lapses from lost voters' names, dead people in the list of voters, the multi-party poll watchers, fraud-prone election materials such as election return envelop seal and ballot boxes, and "fraud sensitive" election process involving "incredibly fatigued"
election workers open to errors.

Gilani said even if they were able to observe in Compostela Valley, their observations could apply to other places in the country as the process and election materials used are the same.

Boehringer admitted that their scope of actual observation covers only a small area and time but he said what they saw "was only tip of the iceberg."

"Wherever there is smoke, there is fire," he said as he tried to explain the context of their observations.

He said they are likely to submit a copy of their observations to the Philippine government after consolidating with other teams. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)