x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Filipinos could make next vote electronic

One-year registration period for overseas workers starts from next Wednesday.

The Philippine embassy needs at least 30,000 citizens here to register for their country's midterm elections in 2013.

The Commission on Elections requires foreign posts to have at least that many voters to use electronic voting machines. Overseas absentee voter registration will take place at the Abu Dhabi embassy and Dubai consulate from November 2 to October 31 next year.

"We have one year for Filipinos to register," said Grace Princesa, the ambassador to the UAE. "I'm hopeful that we'll have 30,000 registered voters to conduct automated elections at the embassy."

The 2010 presidential elections marked the country's first automated balloting, but the machines were not used in the Emirates.

The overseas absentee voters in the UAE had to cast their ballots at the embassy and consulate, while those in Singapore and Hong Kong fed machine-readable ballots into a scanning machine that then transmitted the results to the Philippines.

There are more than 600,000 Filipinos who live and work in the UAE. Of those, 200,000 are in Abu Dhabi, Ruwais, Al Gharbia and Al Ain, Ms Princesa said. The large expatriate community in the UAE and elsewhere could make overseas voters crucial, officials said.

Ms Princesa said she wanted to make the UAE a model post in terms of mass registration, starting with the midterm elections.

To achieve this, information about the registration and voting will be sent out through Bayanihan UAE, an umbrella group of 68 organisations in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, as well as church announcements, monthly embassy meetings and the media.

"Even if we're away from home, we are still concerned about what's happening in our country," said Bal Junio, the president of Bayanihan UAE. "We can't criticise our politicians if we haven't even voted. Last year, we had a low voter turnout."

In total, 17,041 voters in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and 30,679 voters in Dubai and the Northern Emirates registered for last year's presidential elections. However, only 7,917 voted.

Mr Junio said they planned to provide transportation for Musaffah, Al Ain and Ruwais residents to encourage more people to sign up as overseas absentee voters.

While at the embassy in Al Bateen, Filipinos can also visit the annual Paskuhan, or Christmas bazaar, held from December 2 to 30.

But Abu Dhabi resident Leonardo Mansilungan said the registration was a "waste of time".

"I've actually lost interest in the registration and the elections," said the 60-year-old civil engineer, who has been in the capital since 2002. "We usually face long queues and a lengthy registration process."

Prospective voters must register in person because biometric data, including facial features and fingerprints, and signatures need to be digitally recorded. Residents must also bring their passports.

Citizens who have registered previously and voted in the past two polls do not need to register again.

Filipinos who will be 18 or older on May 13, 2013, can register. Overseas absentee voters worldwide are given one month to cast their votes beginning on April 13, while those in the Philippines will vote on the election day, on May 13.

The 2013 midterm elections will be the fourth since overseas Filipinos were first granted voting rights in 2004.

rruiz@thenational.ae