ABU DHABI // A political analyst in Manila has defended the use of optical-scan voting machines in the upcoming Philippine elections after a migrant-rights group questioned their reliability.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are among five Middle East cities where the automated system will be used by the Philippines' Commission on Elections (Comelec). The others are Kuwait, Riyadh and Jeddah.
Overseas voters have one month to cast their votes from April 13, while those in the Philippines will vote on election day, May 13.
Precinct Count Optical Scan machines were first used in the May 2010 national elections.
The voter darkens an oval opposite the name of their preferred candidate and party instead of writing out the details. The ballot is fed into the machine and, after the polls close, it counts the votes cast. The results are then transmitted electronically. It previously took weeks to tally the results using manual ballots.
In total, 21,418 Filipinos in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western Region, and 30,513 in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, have registered for the mid-term elections, according to Comelec.
"In principle, we welcome it," said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, a non-governmental group which advises Comelec. "It would help add to the volume of voters and ensure accuracy."
The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi also welcomed the machines. "It's because we've breached the 20,000 mark in terms of registered voters," said Norman Padalhin, vice consul at the embassy.
But the mission has yet to receive an official communication from Manila's foreign affairs department about introducing the automated system in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, he added.
John Leonard Monterona, Migrante Middle East's regional coordinator, said election officials should pilot the machines before the mid-term elections. "We are not against automated voting," he said. "We want the Comelec to fix the glitches first."
Mr Monterona said Migrante's branch in Hong Kong, where electronic voting was introduced in the 2010 elections, had reported "irregularities" in the conduct of elections. The optical-scan machines failed to work for an hour in Hong Kong, a problem officials blamed on moisture.
But Mr Casiple said: "I don't think [the glitch] matters at this point. In the 2010 elections there were fears that the machines would be used for cheating but we had clean and orderly elections."
Another proposed amendment is removing the requirement for voters to promise to return permanently to the Philippines within three years. The legislation also requires voters to make a personal appearance at an embassy or consulate to register and vote.
"It's a problem for Filipino voters living overseas as certain places are far from the diplomatic missions," Mr Casiple said. "We need to ensure better access to registration and voting."