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Automate

Germany held a crucial vote last Sunday. Angela Merkel, as expected, won an unprecedented fourth term. She has reinforced her position not only as Germany’s leader. She is leader of Europe.

However, for the first time in six decades, a far-right anti-immigrant party won seats in the Bundestag. Merkel’s decision to accept 1.1 million migrants from troubled countries in the Middle East drew strong reaction from an enlarging section of German voters.

One small detail caught my eye about the German electoral process: it is entirely manual. Each voter receives two ballots. One is for the representative of the constituency. The other is for choosing a political party to support in a system of proportional representation.

Although entirely manual, the results of the elections were out in a matter of hours. This is not because the Germans are extremely efficient in counting the votes. It is due to the system of representation. The votes are counted for the constituency and that determines party representation.

India, with its teeming population, votes in a manual process as well. The election results, regardless of the huge number of voters nationwide, are known in a few hours as well.

Germany, India and a host of other countries with parliamentary systems do not need to automate their electoral process. All they need to do is to count the votes in individual constituencies.

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Ours is a different case. We insist on direct elections of national leaders. Because of that, we need to automate our electoral process.

The move toward automation began after that close election between Fidel Ramos and Miriam Defensor Santiago in 1992. For six weeks or more, the nation held its breath while the votes were tabulated manually.

Because of that experience, a consensus formed in favor of automation. The long process of manual tabulation creates a suspenseful, potentially explosive situation. Whatever the expense, we embarked on automating our electoral system.

All the expense, come to think of it, is for the purpose of electing people to only 14 positions: the president, the vice president and 12 senators elected at large. All others, thousands of them, are elected locally.

We can dispense with automated elections, of course. But only if we shift to a parliamentary system where no candidate has to be voted upon by 50 million voters nationwide.

In the last elections, we knew the results the night after the vote. In a survey taken by Pulse Asia three months after the event, Filipino voters overwhelmingly approved of the process. Respondents described the process as peaceful (95 percent), orderly (93 percent), fast (92 percent) and believable (89 percent).

Various expert studies found that the automated elections system greatly enhanced the credibility of our process. It made the process convenient and trustworthy rather than stressful and tedious. In turn, that encourages a healthy turnout.

High levels of public participation and the credibility of the voting process increase the legitimacy of our electoral democracy. Legitimacy is indispensable in a modern democracy.

If the process is tedious and unreliable, and if the process takes forever to completely tally the results, too much space is opened for election-related violence and electoral fraud.  A quick tally closes that space.

The electoral protest filed by Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Leni Robredo, as well as the various issues raised against Comelec chair Andy Bautista could erode some of the credibility enjoyed by the automated system. Still, up to this point, there is not enough basis to propose the scrapping of the system.

Given what we have invested in the system and how it has performed so far, there is enough reason to continue with it.

Correction

Enthusiasm got the better of me. I did not perfectly interpret the information received from sources in the power sector. Some correction needs to be made regarding my column on the power supply agreements discussed in this space last Saturday.

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has not approved the seven power supply agreements under its consideration. Those agreements have been under the regulatory agency’s consideration for a while now.

The ERC had denied the motions made by several groups claiming to speak for power consumers. The motions sought outright rejection of the applications for power supply agreements (PSAs) filed by seven power generation companies.

The denial of the motions does clear the way toward approval of the PSA applications. To be sure, however, that is not the equivalent of approval. The confusion is entirely on my part and apologies are due.

Because of thin power reserves, yellow alerts have become more intermittent in the Luzon grid. Demand for energy continues to rise because our economy is expanding rapidly. The prospect of energy shortages looms larger. That will not encourage investments in the industrial sector we seek to build to make our economic development more inclusive.

Apart from outdated assertions about the use of coal to generate power, those opposing the power supply agreements put forward a rather absurd claim. They oppose new power generation facilities because the investments will be charged consumers. These are proper businesses. They expect some return on investment.

Nothing is costlier than having no power to run our industries. The existing generating capacity, no new capacity is added, will effectively become a ceiling on our economy’s growth. That will make life worse, not better, for our people.

Strangely, some of those objecting to new generating capacity also object to the jeepney modernization program. Much of hydrocarbon pollution happening is due to the persistence of outmoded means of transport such as jeepneys.

 

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