World News

Manila signs deal to automate 2010 elections

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines’ election agency signed a $150-million deal with a Barbados-based firm and its local partner on Friday to supply vote counting machines after days of delay, removing any doubts on automating next year’s polls.

Lawmakers, political groups and analysts have feared chaos under an automated poll process due to potential machine breakdowns and delays in results transmission, which could lead to a failed election and political limbo.

But analysts say even manual counting would expose the elections to the likelihood of fraud. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has faced four attempts at impeachment on charges she cheated in the last presidential election in 2004.

“No more problem, the automation is pushing through,” Jose Melo, head of the Commission on Elections, told reporters after a contract to supply 82,200 vote counting machines was signed with Smartmatic and local partner Total Information Management (TIM).

On June 29, TIM withdrew from the deal with Smartmatic citing irreconcilable differences. Days later, they announced that the deal was on again after settling their disagreements.

Under an automated process, poll results will be available within two days of voting instead of the weeks it takes currently, the election agency said.

A group of lawyers had questioned the legality of the contract before the Supreme Court saying there were alleged violations of procurement laws, but the poll body was confident there would be no more hindrances to the automation of the 2010 general elections.

The election agency said it was ready to address the legal challenge to the automation project.

“We are confident that there will be no temporary restraining order. We will be able to answer the petition properly,” Melo said.