ARMM voters say violence is a “way of life” during elections

They say  “many” would accept payment for their votes and that they prefer to be represented by males in Congress rather than females. But they also believe that international non-partisan election observers should be deployed here to monitor the August 11 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

These are some of the findings of the Social Weather Stations’ (SWS) survey on “Muslim Mindanao attitudes towards democracy and elections” conducted last February 1 to 7 in the ARMM provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan and the Islamic City of Marawi and the non-ARMM areas of North Cotbato, Sultan Kudarat and Lanao del Norte and Isabela City (in Basilan), Zamboanga City and Cotabato City.

The survey had 100 respondents per area, totaling 1,300 – all of them Muslims, according to the SWS.

Dr. Mahar Mangahas, SWS president, presented the findings at the Conference on Islam, Elections and Democracy, at the Grand Regal Hotel here on March 11.

The survey showed that 75% of Muslims in the ARMM and non-ARMM areas in Mindanao agree that voting was “clean and orderly in our precinct” in 2007. ARMM voters were more optimistic than non-ARMM Muslim voters in that 76%  of Muslims in the ARMM agreed, compared with only 73% among Muslims in the other survey areas.

But Mangahas said there is an “outstanding difference” between Muslims in Mindanao and the rest of the country on “clean and orderly” polls.  He pointed to the June 2007 nationwide survey post-elections that showed 97%  in the country agreed that voting was “clean and orderly in their precinct,” while 96% in Mindanao agreed to the same.

The SWS also found that three of five Muslims in Mindanao think  the 2007 elections were “mostly free and fair.”

But Manghas described as “alarming” the fact that 40% of the respondents said “very many” would accept payment for their votes while another 40% said “some” would. The question asked was: ‘If a candidate offered money, food, or gifts for voters in this area, how many would vote for it because of that?’”

Sixty-nine per cent of the respondents agree that “violence during elections is accepted as a way of life in this province,” a finding Mangahas described as “very, very alarming.”

Sixty-one per cent of the respondents or three out of five find election-related violence serious in their locality with 20% saying “very serious” and 41% referring to it as “somewhat serious.”

“This is serious,” Mangahas said.

In terms of personal security during election time, 43%  of the respondents within the ARMM say they are worried compared with 33% in the non-ARMM.

When respondents were asked which of the two views – “it is good to have an unopposed candidate in an election since it reduces campaign violence and insecurity” and “it is important to have at least two candidates for every position so that everyone has a choice,” 65% of those in the ARMM chose the former while 51% of Muslims outside the ARMM chose the latter.

On the issue of dynasties, respondents were asked “are there any families in the province that constantly have so much political power that you would call them ‘dynasties.’”

Fifty-eight per cent answered “none” while 41% answered “yes.”

Do they think elections can lead to improvement in the future?  In the ARMM, the margin between those who believe voting can change things and those who think things are not going to be better is very slim – at 52% to 48%. Muslims outside the ARMM are more optimistic, at 62% to 37%.

Other findings:

– 59% are confident that the Commission on Elections was fair in administering the election in the locality; 68% are satisfied that Comelec’s declared winners truly got the most votes but 68% said they would feel more confident if their votes were counted at precinct level. In the ARMM, counting is usually done in the municipal or provincial level;
– 75% of those who saw non-partisan observers in their precincts are more confident of fairness compared with the April 2007 nationwide confidence of 59% and Mindanao’s 47%;
– 84% of the respondents want international non-partisan observers to come during the ARMM elections. The ARMM voting is scheduled on August 11;
– 77% say automation in the 2008 ARMM elections will improve the election process;
– 55% say women should decide for themselves on who to vote while 45% say they should receive advice from their father or husband;
– only 19% said more women should be elected; the remaining 81% said the proportion now is “about right;”
– 83% of the respondents prefer a male representative in Congress;
– 79% think the ARMM should have an Islamic government even if the Philippines is mostly Catholic but 64% of them perceive that “Islamic government” is “a government that respects the values and morals of Islam.”
– 83%  think the Ulama (Muslim religious leaders) will become more influential in the ARMM elections.

The survey was sponsored by The Asia Foundation (TAF) as part of its program on election reform funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The TAF deployed in the ARMM international observers from the Asian Network for Free Elections during the May 2007 polls. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)