ABU DHABI // Almost 90 per cent of Filipino expatriates in the UAE have not registered to vote in the upcoming presidential election, a bloc of nearly 400,000 voters that could prove crucial if the race is close.
Benigno Aquino and Manuel Villar are the leading candidates for president, but only around 47,000 of the estimated 450,000 Filipinos in this country are eligible to vote, according to embassy figures. Several recent polls indicate the candidates are neck-and-neck. Some Filipinos said their embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai failed to provide them with information about overseas voting. Others said they were too busy to register, even if they knew how.
Filipinos can vote at the embassy and the consulate every day from Saturday until May 10, the day of the election. Yet embassy officials said just over 10 per cent of the potential voters signed up during the registration period from February through August of last year. Gleceria Danola, 45, a housemaid employed by an Emirati family in Abu Dhabi for six years, is one of those who will not be voting. "I'm not even aware that we could register at the embassy," she said, "since I don't have a day off."
Agnes Cordero, 37, a classroom assistant at Emirates National School in Abu Dhabi, did not know Filipinos working overseas were even allowed to vote. "No one told us," she said. Nhel Morona, 40, a systems administrator in Jebel Ali and an absentee voter in the 2004 and 2007 elections, said diplomats had not provided enough information about the voting process. "The list of voters isn't posted on their noticeboard," he said. "Many have been calling to ask us where they would be voting. Those voting for the first time in the UAE are very excited to vote but most of them don't know what to do."
Adelio Cruz, the consul-general at the embassy, said officials had done their best to get the word out. Information about the period of the registration and voting for expatriates was sent out to the public in various ways, he said, including through press releases to newspapers and television stations, church announcements, social groups, monthly embassy meetings and e-mails to community leaders.
"Filipinos may have been very busy," Mr Cruz conceded. "But they should have social responsibility. They can follow up and enquire at the embassy. They can't just wait for us to look for them and inform them about the registration and the elections." Archier Botona, 29, a mechanical engineer in Abu Dhabi, said the embassy was not to blame for the lack of registrants. "I was just too busy with work," he said. "I'm not very interested in the elections. No one is qualified for the position of president."
In total, 17,041 voters in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and 30,624 voters in Dubai and the Northern Emirates have registered, according to officials. Voters should present identification with his or her name, signature and photograph to the special board of election inspectors. Overseas absentee voters can vote for president, vice president, 12 senators and a party-list representative, which represents certain sectors.
More than 50 million Filipinos in the Philippines are registered to vote in the May election, out of a total population of 80 million, according to the Comelec, the commission on elections . The missing 400,000 votes from local expatriates would have been almost one per cent of the potential electorate. firstname.lastname@example.org
Seven of the 10 Filipino expatriates who spoke to The National did not register as overseas absentee voters for the May 10 presidential election. About 10 per cent of the estimated 450,000 Filipinos living here registered during the open period from February to August last year. Around 47,000 Filipinos are eligible to vote in the election. Votes may be cast at the embassy or consulate for eight hours each day between Saturday and May 10, including weekends. * Ramona Ruiz