Comelec urges presidential bets to bare programs for OFWs to raise interest in absentee voting
To get citizens abroad interested enough to vote in 2016, the Commission on Elections will ask presidential candidates for their specific plans for overseas Filipino workers and disseminate copies of these plans to embassies abroad.
Comelec commissioner Arthur Lim said voters’ apathy was one of the reasons for the dismal 16 percent turnout for overseas absentee voting in the 2013 elections, aside from lack of opportunity to go to the polling precincts and political reasons.
But the poll body has been trying to generate more OFW interest and participation in the next year’s elections, especially since presidential elections generally attracted more voters compared to midterm polls, Lim said at the Senate’s hearing on the Comelec’s budget.
Once the aspirants for the presidency have declared their plans, the Comelec would ask them for their plans for OFWs, he said.
“We intend to upload this, give it the widest dissemination possible, post it in the various sites abroad… and see whether their own interest in the OFW vote will generate a higher voter turnout,” he said.
“Sooner or later, maybe not only the candidates, also our people will come to realize that the OFW vote could be a game changer, not only in the senatorial but even in the presidential elections,” he added.
There are 8 million potential Filipino voters abroad, but only 1.2 million have registered so far. The Comelec has been working to increase this number, he said.
The “akyat barko” program is one of the strategies to raise overseas voters’ interest. Election officials would visit areas where they could easily get access to Filipino seafarers. The election officials would board the vessels so to make it easier for seamen to register.
The Comelec is also hoping that activities to sustain voters’ interest are enough for overseas Filipinos to participate in the actual polling.
Lim said overseas voters’ registration has not necessarily translated to participation in elections.
One of the reasons for this is voter apathy. Another is employment constraints, as some employers do not allow their Filipino workers to take a leave of absence from work so that they could register and vote.
A third reason has to do with the political situation. He said that in Middle East countries where there are a large concentration of Filipino workers, the governments are run by monarchies and these may not be happy to see Filipinos exercising their right to suffrage in public places.
Hence, the Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs have no other recourse but to ask Filipinos to register in various posts and embassies, he said.
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