Mobile Phones Networks and Political Participation in the Philippines

Teen Texting

As I was told, being in the Philippines during elections period is always exciting and worth the experience. For me it is even more interesting because it is the first time the Philippines using poll machines to count and transmit the votes. Basically it came because the ballots were to large and it took the electional oversight committee too long to count the votes. Thus, the one to two weeks time were used to corrupt people counting and managing the votes which resulted in a forged outcome. The automatization issue together with my article on the Philippines brought the thought up to my mind: how do information and communication technologies (ICTs) influence political participation in the Philippines. Even more specific: How can the mobile phone networks be uses to foster political participation – due to the fact that texting is pretty cheap and the Philippines is the texting capital of the world.

So, how can text messages be used in political campaigning? Motivation to go to the elections is not important because the elections here in the Philippines have always a relatively high attendance compared to European Countries for example.

Of course txt messages can be sent like spam in order to advertise for one candidate. This might be not efficient because a text message is not remotely as impressive as a billboard or the candidate itself giving speeches. The erase button will most of the time eradicate the purpose of these text messages. What it can do however is that it can help people to organize themselves in order to campaign somewhere for example. Thus, text messages are only feasible in order to support and sustain an existing political group. It might be also useful for maybe-interested people to include them in a texting list, keeping them up to date and may be convince them to elect your standard bearer.

Let us proceed to the poll automatization. Why that when talking about mobile phone networks? Technical details first:

– voting machines show faces and names of the people
– voting machines a connected to COMELEC central office via mobile phone network (Globe)
– if that does not work, there is a satellite uplink to send the data
– if that does not work either there are still the printed ballots which can be used and later manually counted
– two weeks ago 5000 electronic counter measure devices (ECM) have been brought into the country which could disrupt mobile phone connection between voting machines and the central computers
– a representative of COMELEC announced that there are devices to disrupt the disruption. Even though he was not aware of the name of the devices (and I doubt that COMELEC possess any electronic counter counter measure devices (ECCM)) that might be taken into account

Actually, when I watched the TV interview with the guy from COMELEC he was pretty convinced but not pretty convincing that the automatized polls will run smoothly. What else should he say?

I agree with him that if the mobile connection does not work it is no problem because ballots can be counted manually again – which brings us back to the problem of corruption and the time it takes to count them. However, I disagree with him using satellite uplink or installing ECCMs. The latter they do simply not possess and the satellite uplink would be pretty expansive if even exists (which I also doubt).

In general I would agree that the elections will take place because using manually balloting is always a back up plan. However, what they do not address is the problem of someone hacking into the system and changing the results directly on machines. Even though a 64bit encryption has been announced to be in use might not hinder people decrypting it (for example by reverse engineering of a machine they got hold off from somewhere). If you do not notice that the results are changed, there is no reason to use the ballots. Probably I am just to pessimistic.

Back to the participation: I think it is easier for illiterate people to use the machines than using the ballots. Furthermore, some people might be curious about voting machines and are attracted by the simple fact that this is something and in order to talk about you might have experienced it.

Again: the impact on the people in order to foster participation is not expected to be that large. Actually due to the fact that voting machines are in the headlines of the newspapers for weeks, people might not want to go to the elections because they are afraid of faked results.

Thus, for the voting system it is good to adapt ICTs (if working properly) because it does not consume so much time to get the results which on one side hinders corruption and on the other side may save lives in the time between voting and seeing the results flashing on the TV screen.

Consequently, when it comes down to participation in elections I do not think that mobile phone networks are a big deal when it comes to motivate the voters to go to the elections. Having said that, mobile phone networks can facilitate the elections and also grown political (supporter) structures.

For the people of this country I hope that the elections will progress smoothly and without any problems concerning the voting machines, but I do have doubts…. .

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