Philippines extends voting period, violence kills eight

Philippines’ election officials on Monday extended voting by one hour after technical glitches delayed balloting in general elections also marred by violence that killed eight people.

Most precincts opened on time, but problems arose immediately with the new automated ballot—counting system that transmitted results electronically to central servers.

Frustration mounted as the voters waited for hours in long lines in the stifling summer heat while election officers struggled with malfunctioning machines, inaccurate voter lists and disorder.

At least eight people were killed in shootings and clashes on election day. Several bomb and grenade attacks also occurred, mostly in the volatile southern region of Mindanao.

More than 300 optical scanners bogged down within the first hours of voting, according to Smartmatic, the consortium that provided the technology.

Replacement machines were sent to some precincts, and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) decided to delay the closing of poll centres to give voters more time.

“We added one hour to accommodate the long queue,” Comelec chairman Jose Melo said.

In one precinct in the village of Central in Tarlac City, 75 kilometres north of Manila, the machines stopped just two hours into the voting with only 112 of 1,000 people casting their votes.

“The machine must have gotten tired,” said Rodrigo Jacinto, a Smartmatic technician.

Cris Marie Unanan, 43, who accompanied her 76—year—old mother, was exasperated by the new system.

“I thought it was supposed to be faster with the machines,” she said. “This is such a hassle for us. This system is a big failure.” Presidential frontrunner Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was among the thousands of Filipinos who had to wait for hours before being able to vote due to the computer problems.

“We are concerned about possible massive disenfranchisement,” he told reporters while waiting for his turn. “If people are unable to vote because of the problems, then this is a big issue.” More than 50.7 million Filipinos registered to vote for president, vice president, hundreds of legislators and more than 17,000 local officials.

Comelec predicted the turnout could be as high as 85 per cent.

Kyle Todd, a member of an international election observer group, expressed concern that the technical problems could expose the new automated system to cheating.

Mr. Todd said he observed that some voters were opting to just leave their ballots and let election officers later cast them into the machine once the problem is fixed.

“They won’t be actually casting their ballots personally. I think that in this condition, fraud could easily happen,” he said. “Voters might also decide to not vote and just go home.” Sen. Aquino enjoyed a 22—percentage—point lead over his closest rivals former president Joseph Estrada and Senator Manuel Villar.

Administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro is trailing behind at fourth place.

Analysts said Filipinos were hungry for change and would choose a leader who has no links to the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which has been plagued by corruption scandals, allegations of abuses and other anomalies.

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