DOHA: The Commission on Elections (Comelec) of the Philippines targets 300,000 new Filipino voters in the Middle East, including 16,000 in Qatar, for the 2016 national elections.
“We are targeting 300,000 new voters from the Middle East to register, which is 10 percent of the population,” said Rafael E Seguis, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary and Chairman of DFA Overseas Voting Secretariat.
While the Middle East is home to 3,051,430 Filipinos, the number of registered voters is 281,200 or 9.03 percent of the population, Seguis said, adding in Qatar there were only 23,260 registered voters or 10 percent of the population of overseas Filipinos here which is around 200,000.
“Only 32,382 voted in the Middle East in the 2013 midterm elections. This is a dismal figure in terms of the number of overseas Filipinos exercising their right to suffrage,” Seguis told a press conference at Grand Hyatt Doha.
He, along with Comelec Commissioner and Chairman of Overseas Voting Lucenito N Tagle and Comelec Commissioner Elias R Yusoph, was in Doha for a three-day overseas voting registration training which saw 56 participants from 19 Philippine foreign service posts in the Middle East and Africa region.
Filipinos in the Middle East make up 28.91 percent of the overseas Filipinos population across the world or 10.5m and are a significant factor during elections, especially senatorial elections when the lead is minimal, according to Tagle.
Asked about the reason for the low turnout of overseas Filipino voters, Tagle said, “The main reason is the post is quite far from their residence and their employers don’t permit them to go out during elections.”
In the case of Qatar, accessibility is not a problem, said Ambassador Crescente R Relacion.
“The problem is there are really Filipinos here who would not exercise their right to suffrage within the one-month voting period. So we have to encourage them, in fact we are also planning to have field voting if that is possible because I learned from our counterparts like those in Thailand where the embassy was allowed to have voting outside the premises. We can also do that in Qatar,” he said.
“In the last election, only 2,800 cast votes. There are 200,000 Filipinos here so that’s a small figure, that’s why we have to really go out and encourage them to register,” he said.
The Philippine embassy conducted field registration during the last elections but not in a very sustained manner, said the ambassador, “but with the support promised to us of more voting registration machines there would be no excuse not to reach out to OFWs at their worksites. “We will schedule that every weekend during the registration period, because our target here is 16,000 new voters.”
Registration for overseas absentee voting is scheduled from May 6, 2014 to October 15, 2015.
On the possibility of field voting, he said, “we will coordinate with the committee on overseas voting for field voting subject to the approval of the host country.” To increase the number of overseas Filipino voters, Tagle said Comelec is mulling to implement registration and voting via the Internet.
“There are plans to have Internet registration and voting. We are discussing that in Comelec and we hope before 2016 it would be approved to increase the number of registrants,” he said.
He said overseas voters who failed to vote in previous two elections would not be de-listed and would be allowed to vote in the 2016 elections.