The sweltering summer heat intensified the boiling election scenario in the Philippines. Five candidates are vying for the top position of president, each one trying to outdo the others during debates, rallies and in social media. As the voters in the Philippines are still scrutinizing the platforms and gimmicks of the candidates, Filipinos in Yangon started voting last April 9. One month prior to the election date on May 9, overseas Filipinos around the world are allowed to vote in advance.
The Overseas Absentee Voting Act was passed in February 2003 in the Philippines to enable overseas Filipinos to vote during national elections. This is in recognition of the contribution of overseas Filipinos to the economic development of the country through the remittances sent to the Philippines. With more than 10% of Filipinos working around the world, the number is substantial enough to make a difference in the outcome of national elections.
Philippine Ambassador Alex Chua confirmed there were more than 1,500 Filipino registered voters in Myanmar. They were required to register for election at the Philippine embassy, while their ballots are prepared in the Philippines and sent to the embassy in Myanmar. The voters can pick-up the ballot at the embassy, fill-it up and deposit at the ballot box. If they cannot come to the embassy, it will be sent to them by mail. Upon receipt, the voters fill it up, mail it to the embassy where it will be deposited in the ballot box.
Ms. Olivia R. De Guzman, president of the Filipino Community in Myanmar observed the excitement of Filipino voters to participate in this year’s electoral process. With the backdrop of the increasing tension in the South China Sea and the start of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the outcome of the presidential election will determine how the Philippines will engage China and the other countries in important issues in the region.
Compared to the Philippines, the last election in Myanmar can be considered very tame. As a democracy-loving people used to democratic process, Filipinos will criticize elected leaders and even initiate recall proceedings if they feel a leader is corrupt or not up to the standards of a national position. Candidates also add to the entertainment atmosphere by frontal attacks on the personality of their rivals, singing and dancing on stage and other gimmicks. Filipino voters take sides publicly and are very passionate in campaigning for their preferred candidates. The social media particularly Facebook, YouTube and Instagram became battlegrounds for groups supporting various candidates.
Myanmar can learn from the Philippine experience on how to set up absentee voting mechanism. With the growing number of Myanmar citizens seeking employment overseas, providing opportunities for its citizen to exercise their basic right to vote is something worth considering. It will foster the spirit of democracy and people participation in decision-making which is essential for an emerging democracy like Myanmar.