The Philippine Star

Election in Venezuela relevant to Phl opposition

This most recent Venezuelan election experience should teach a lesson or two to the political opposition leaders in our own country.


Opposition candidates in the Philippine­s should take heart in the recent landslide opposition victory in Venezuela. After 16 years of “Chavismo,” the party led by former president Hugo Chavez suffered a major setback at the polls just a couple of weeks ago.

The results of the December 6 elections in Venezuela for members of the new parliament showed the opposition won at least 99 seats, more than double the ruling socialist party’s 46. This was reportedly the first time in one-and-a-half decades that Chavez supporters lost a majority hold in the 167-seat unicameral national assembly.

But how is opposition victory in far-away Venezuela relevant to the Philippine­s, especially for the opposition? It’s interestin­g to note that like Venezuela, the Philippine­s is using a fully automated election system. In fact, both countries are using equipment and technology supplied by London-based Smartmatic.

For years, the political mills in oil-producing Venezuela were rife with rumors that Chavez was allegedly behind, or owns a substantia­l stake in Smartmatic. The company also reportedly counts among its directors wealthy Venezuelan businessme­n. Though unsubstant­iated, Chavez’s rumored ties with the election equipment vendor has always been blamed by opposition­ists for Chavismo’s winning streak in parliament for the past 14 elections.

This perception – unfounded or not – has obviously been completely changed. The recent landslide opposition victory in Venezuela seems to debunk the ownership myth. The unpopular sitting president of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro – a Chavez-handpicked successor – also conceded and recognized the adverse election results to his administra­tion.

News dispatches by foreign journalist­s from various wire services reported how the Smartmatic provided “end-to-end voting platform” in Venezuela included biometrics authentica­tion, voting, results transmissi­on, tallying and results broadcasti­ng. Notably, a similar system will be used in the Philippine­s in the next May, 2016 national and local elections.

There were a total of 13 technical audits before, during and after the election to ensure the integrity of the election system, including source code review, machine assembly, biometrics authentica­tion system operation and maintenanc­e of all software elements. Technician­s representi­ng each party contesting the elections participat­ed in every audit and confirmed the system’s proper operation.

This most recent Venezuelan election experience should teach a lesson or two to the political opposition leaders in our own country.

It underscore­s the importance of reviews and audits such as the current source code review ongoing at De La Salle University. To date, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic are still appealing to accredited reviewers to show up and do their share in checking out the election system.

The source code review allows participan­ts to read the code line by line to check for flaws; its performanc­e, functional­ity and security; consistenc­y with the overall program design; and adherence to coding standards.

With more than seven months to review the software that runs the vote counting machines, political parties only have themselves to blame should they question the results of the 2016 polls. It will be recalled that in 2013, political parties complained of lack of transparen­cy and insufficie­nt time to review the source code. Now is the best time to do it.

Speaking of election machines, our own Comelec officials and lawmakers who joined the recent trip to Smartmatic’s Taiwan facility gave the firm positive reviews. The team was led by Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, Comelec director James Jimenez, Reps. Oscar Rodriguez and Nicasio Aliping Jr. from the Joint Congressio­nal Oversight Committee (JCOC), Congressma­n Fred Castro and representa­tives from the election watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsibl­e Voting (PPCRV).

The Comelec also invited private media to join the plant tour of Smartmatic’s Mainboard Factory where it has been producing most of its mainboards since 2005.

Of the total 93,977 vote counting machines (VCMs), the Comelec disclosed earlier Smartmatic will deliver 21,000 units by end of December this year; 30,000 VCMs will arrive by the middle of January, 2016; and the remaining VCMs will be delivered by the end of January.

Outgoing President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III distinguis­hed himself not only as the country’s first bachelor President elected into office. P-Noy is also regarded as the first PCOS-elected Chief Executive. PCOS stood for the much-maligned precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines – also supplied by Smartmatic – which were used in our country’s maiden automated elections during the May, 2010 presidenti­al elections.

Also elected through PCOS were also the same officials now running for higher or same office like Vice President Jejomar Binay who beat then Sen.Mar Roxas II.

Incidental­ly, the same PCOS machines were used again during the mid-term elections in May, 2013 when now front-running presidenti­al aspirant Sen.Grace Poe topped the Senate race.

But even as Binay and Roxas are running again as rivals in next year’s presidenti­al elections, the latter has not withdrawn his poll protest before the Presidenti­al Electoral Tribunal (PET). Roxas claims the “null” votes should be counted in his favor given the slim margin of victory of Binay over him in the 2010 vice presidenti­al race. “Null” or stray votes are votes that the PCOS machines did not count because of incorrect shading, or voter elected more than one candidate, etc.

To date, however, the PET has not terminated the Roxas protest. Curiously, shouldn’t this poll protest of Roxas be considered effectivel­y abandoned after the complainan­t filed a certificat­e of candidacy to run for higher office?

Both Comelec and Smartmatic say the new machines to be used in next year’s automated elections are called VCMs. It is the generic term though of PCOS that has earned pejorative meaning for electronic cheating that was never proven.

As the new VCM machines are delivered, it is incumbent upon both Smartmatic and Comelec to educate users about their new features and basic instructio­ns for use. Voter education in the next few months is critical to preserve faith in the system. After all, this is only the second time that Filipinos are using again this automated system to elect the new president of the country.

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