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Philippines election commission halts provincial vote count for fraud probe

[JURIST] The Philippines' Commission on Elections (COMELEC) [official website] Tuesday stopped the counting of last week's votes for congressional candidates [JURIST report] in the southern province of Maguindanao to investigate allegations of fraud. Early reports of voter intimidation and vote-rigging have emerged across the country; in Maguindanao, an independent watchdog group complained that it was blocked from monitoring the voting process and others complained of ballot-stuffing in favor of pro-administration Senate candidates. In response, COMELEC halted official canvassing until Friday. A spokesman for Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website; JURIST news archive] said that the move is based on an uncorroborated claim [press release] and violates the due process rights of Maguindanao's 300,000 voters. Early results showed pro-administration candidates winning all 12 Senate seats. AP has more.

Government authorities have attributed the death of 116 people, including 11 candidates, to election violence directed towards candidates and voters alike since the election campaigning season began on January 14. The Philippine National Police established special Task Forces [press release] to increase police presence in 32 of 81 provinces that were threatened by "serious armed threats," which the government attributed to communist militants from the Communist Party of Philippines (CPP), New People's Army (NPA) [Wikipedia backgrounders], and "other lawless elements." Despite the violence, a representative from the national police characterized the election process as "proceeding smoothly." Elections in the Philippines are routinely plagued by violence, allegations of vote buying and balloting fraud; in 2006, Macapagal-Arroyo was accused of vote rigging [JURIST report], bribery, graft, corruption, human rights abuses and constitutional violations.

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