C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre [It is magnificent, but it is not war].
—Pierre Bosquet, 1854 (on the ill-fated charge of the Light Brigade)
For 24 hours it seemed the effort of people like Christian Monsod (see his May 1 commentary ‘Let’s not feed people’s fears with gov’t plots’ ) to calm the waters and boost public confidence in the coming elections would fail. As machines started being rolled out their testing led to a barrage of reports of glitches.
I was told that Smartmatic had a meeting with the Comelec Tuesday night and asked for a 30 day delay in the holding of elections. The Comelec rejected the appeal, and the result was yesterday’s press conference. However, Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez denied a request was made.
I don’t think we should discount the breathtaking ambition of the logistical feats Smartmatic is supposed to accomplish if elections are to be held on Monday. Everything from a pledged massive deployment of the Philippine Air Force, even the drafting of 13 private choppers, the lending of private aircraft, in a logistical operation that has all the characteristics of the Berlin Airlift -except the coverage is from Aparri to Jolo.
Wednesday marked the maximum point of doubt over whether the Comelec would end up postponing the elections or not.
What’s clear is there was s a proposal to postpone or delay the elections coming from the Palace (or the President’s election lawyer: same difference!). Overlooked in the concentration on technical issues is that a postponement would allow the President to appoint the next Chief Justice even before elections.
The Palace, after “supporting” the call of the President’s election lawyer, Romulo Macalintal, backpedaled and so Macalintal fell on his sword and resigned.
It may be entirely possible a majority in the Comelec as well as Smartmatic itself believed the fallout from a postponement of the polls would be unbearable. The problem is foreign journalists and observers have already started arriving, and the electorate has already geared up for polls. Not to mention the fury this would have provoked among the candidates and their supporters. So that proposal had to shelved but at least a sense of urgency and looming crisis was already propagated.
As it is, the Comelec has pledged to pursue matters along three tracks:
1. Elections to proceed with machines per precinct as planned.
2. Contingencies for the manual counting of votes in up to 30% of the precincts as previously planned for in the Comelec’s own contingency planning.
3. The provision of Municipal counting machines if the first fallback of bringing ballots to be counted by he machines of neighboring counting machines fails; this will, of course, involving the securing and transportation of ballots in wholesale batches to the regional/municipal counting machines.
Further damage control is taking place, with the Supreme Court ordering the Comelec (news released this evening) to disclose all poll automation details, from the source code to certifications and the procedures for random manual audit terms and protocols.
If one adopts Christian Monsod’s arguments -and by all accounts, he believes this week’s snafus are technical glitches and not because of a plot- then all’s well that ends well. I personally believe that what was instructive was that the Palace was prepared to try to push a postponement of the elections, and only retreated when the public alarm threatened to have international repercussions -and giving at least some of those in the Comelec the benefit of the doubt, perhaps a faction prevailed upon the whole to push through with the elections rather than send the credibility of the whole process into a tailspin.
Still, there are avenues for opportunity for an administration that thrives when the landscape is shrouded in the fog of war. Considering the expanding list of options -from manual counting to fully automated counting in precincts to the automated counting of ballots in other places- the opportunities for human error, and remarkable events to transpire, expands, too: and with it, the possible scenarios to consider and possibly profit from.
These are made even more interesting by what will be tomorrow’s main news: the publication of the last pre-election survey, the results of which were already leaked today. More on that tomorrow.
And they are made even more intriguing by other factors which I will delve into on Saturday.