x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Filipinos in UAE urged to vote early

Officials are concerned about the lack of voter turnout for Philippines midterm elections.

ABU DHABI // Filipino expatriates are being urged to vote before time runs out in two weeks.

Diplomats are concerned about the low turnout since polls opened on April 13.

"We really need more voters to come out and vote," said Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE. "I hope they'll use their duty as Filipino citizens to make a difference."

Arnel Cuevas, 39, a courier driver in Abu Dhabi, visited the embassy to vote on Sunday and was surprised there was not a queue. "I wanted to try out the new system," said the first-time voter. "It took me only five minutes to fill the ballot and insert it into the machine."

These are the fourth midterm elections since Filipinos overseas were granted voting rights in 2004. Automated voting is being held in the UAE for the first time.

A total of 29,943 Filipinos in Abu Dhabi and 68,263 in Dubai and the Northern Emirates are eligible to vote until May 13, the day of the election in the Philippines.

"We'll reach out to voters in Al Ain this Saturday and hand out flyers to Filipino restaurants in Abu Dhabi to increase the voter turnout," Ms Princesa said.

Diplomats extended voting hours at the consulate in Dubai and arranged field voting at venues Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah.

But after two weeks, fewer than 2,000 voters have cast their ballots at the consulate and the field-voting sites, said Frank Cimafranca, the consul general in Dubai.

Rules set out by the Commission on Elections bans diplomats and members of the board of election inspectors to reveal voter turnout.

"I'm getting worried," Mr Cimafranca said. "Please do not wait until the last minute to vote."

Ms Princesa wondered whether the lack of enthusiasm was related to the nature of the elections - voters are choosing 12 senators and one party-list group.

The election of president to succeed Benigno Aquino, as well as a vice-president, 12 senators and one party-list group, is not until 2016.

"Our next challenge is to encourage more Filipinos to sign up and to translate these registered voters to actual votes in the presidential elections," Ms Princesa said.

rruiz@thenational.ae