Aquino unfazed by poll fraud allegations


Posted at May 27 2010 03:46 PM | Updated as of May 27 2010 11:46 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Senator Benigno Aquino III, set to be the next president of the Philippines, said he was unfazed by allegations of election fraud and described complaints from losing pro-administration candidates as a "fishing expedition".

Unofficial tallies from the elections commission show Aquino has an insurmountable lead of more than 5 million votes over his nearest rival, former President Joseph Estrada, in the May 10 ballot. The race for vice president is much closer.

On Tuesday, a joint session of Congress met to start the official tally of votes, but not a single ballot has been counted yet due to debate over technical details and doubts on the integrity of the automated vote count.

A House of Representatives panel holding a parallel inquiry into allegations of election fraud has heard from a number of losing candidates, most allied with the ruling Lakas-Kampi CMD coalition.

"These allegations are more on the level of a fishing expedition," Aquino told reporters after a meeting with the Chinese ambassador at his residence on Thursday, asking those complaining of fraud to produce solid evidence.

"You have a party in power crying, well, making all of these allegations, and that really seems strange," said Aquino, who has not been implicated in the accusations of fraud.

Aquino's solid victory and the relatively smooth election process were seen as a positive for the Philippines, where polls are often controversial and contested, but that could be eroded by a drawn-out confirmation period and allegations of fraud.

The joint session of Congress to declare the President and Vice President was brought forward by a week, but it may not be until mid-June that the results are official.

The deadline is June 30, when the current administration's term ends, and Aquino's victory is not considered to be at risk.

On Wednesday, an official of the state lottery agency told the House committee seven men had approached him before the election and offered to manipulate results in favour of the administration's presidential candidate for 1 billion pesos ($22 million).

Several lawmakers and local government officials had similar allegations of offers to rig results in the election, but they have not been yet shown how the results could be manipulated.

Information technology experts have raised doubts on the reliability and security of vote-counting machines after some security features, including electronic signatures, were disabled.

Poll agency officials have said identified glitches were not of a scale that would change the outcome of election, after admitting errors had been discovered in the transmission of some results and in the configuration of data in memory cards.

In one mistake, a server set to be used for the official tally showed 256 million registered voters -- five times the actual number. About 70 percent of 51.2 million registered voters cast a ballot in the election.

Aquino said he was confident the congressional vote tally would be completed next week and the winners would be proclaimed without any question on the credibility of the process. (Reporting by Manny Mogato and Michaela Cabrera; Editing by John Mair and Alex Richardson)