What makes elections genuine?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is considered a milestone document in the history of human rights. The UDHR was crafted by “representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world. The document was proclaimed by the United Nations general assembly in Paris on Dec. 10, 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.”

The proclamation goes on to express the following clauses in its preamble, portions of which we quote:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

“Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.”

The United Nations, the main driver behind the UDHR, was established on Oct. 24, 1945 in San Francisco, California, USA, less than 60 days after the generally regarded official end of World War II on Oct. 2, 1945.

The fact that the US and its allies, mainly the United Kingdom and France, won the war, automatically meant that history would be written from their collective perspective. That point of view revolved around freedom and respect for human dignity. The then USSR, an ally of the western powers in the war against Nazi Germany in Europe and Japan in Asia, was forced to take the backseat in the formation of the UN. Whatever political ideology the Soviets advocated was thus lost in the process of forming the UN.

Expectedly, what prevailed were Judaeo-Christian values with no principles of Communism, Stalinism, Nazism, Leninism, or any other non-democratic tenets influencing the principles of the victors and even indirectly condemning autocracy and one-man rule. This fact becomes very obvious when one considers Article 21 of the Declaration, to which the Philippines was a signatory:

“Article 21

1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or indirectly through freely chosen representatives

“2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country

“3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

Item three of Article 21 says a mouthful about the essence of democracy — consent of the governed. The UDHR affirms the sacred principle that all government or state authority emanates from the people. All power comes from the people especially if one considers the Greek etymology of the word “democracy”: “demos” stands for people while “kratis” is power. In short, democracy is people power.

If indeed power comes from the people, then it is their consent that is the only thing you need to legitimize one’s exercise of power and authority over the governed. Article 21 tells us that this consent is expressed by way of periodic and genuine elections through secret vote or some equivalent free voting procedures.

A question now arises. What makes an election genuine? We have no problem with the periodic part of the election process. From our vantage point, an election is genuine when a truly independent constitutional body tasked to manage and administer the elections does its functions according to the spirit and the letter of the law. By spirit of the law, we mean being mindful of the original intent of the law. Elections should be viewed as the mechanism available to the community to select its officers who will exercise their powers to protect the welfare of the community. It is the process used in a representative democracy.

And this is where our situation as we think of the 2022 synchronized elections becomes a bit tricky. Voices of congress, the judiciary, the legal profession, and even some sectors of media have been strangely muted, by and large over the years, regarding electoral reform except those of IT practitioners and good governance advocates like Dr. Rene Azurin, author of the paper “Elections as an Instrument of Political Control”; Dr. Nelson Celis, spokesman of the Automated Election System (AES) Watch and IT columnist of a broadsheet; Augusto Lagman, former IBM Philippines executive, former COMELEC commissioner and incumbent national chairman of the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL).

The point of view of these three civic activists and the UP Center for People Empowerment and Governance (CenPEG) expressed through Azurin and a 642-page, CenPEG study on automated elections, surfaces another dimension of automated elections versus manual counting at the precinct level:

Azurin says there should be “manual counting at the precinct level (which is transparent to all watchers), coupled with immediate electronic transmission (with digital signatures) of precinct results simultaneously to the national canvassing center, to all the major media outlets, and to a secure public website. The correctness of transmitted precinct results and the accuracy of the tally can be instantly verified by everyone through the public website. Results can then still be known within 12 hours. This makes dagdag bawas [adding and subtracting] almost impossible. As long as there is electronic voting and counting, the process is not transparent and there will always be room for electronic magic.”

Good doses of forthrightness will be useful.

 

Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as Secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.