THE local election campaign has begun with a spew of election paraphernalia from both national and home grown candidates, which could almost drown the city in garbage. Thus officially start the colorful, if not frustrating dimension of the electoral campaign.

On the 10th of May more than 50 million people will vote to choose: president, vice president, 300 deputies in both houses of Congress and 17,600 local politicians. This is the first presidential elections after six years of the Arroyo administration.

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The fraud during the last national elections made it convenient for the national movers to lobby for the electronic counting of votes. This is 1supposedly a first in a “democratic” country in Asia where elections is typically regarded as the main avenue for democratic change but have always been tainted with violence, vote buying, voter intimidation, massive cheating, ballot tampering and other forms of electoral corruption.

In some parts of the country, the risk of violence, intimidation and vote buying are high. In most areas, the common practice of padding the number of voters as against those who are actually registered remains a reality.

That this year's presidential election will not be an exception is now far off. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is bracing for a rise in violence and poll infractions as the 45-day campaign period for local positions begun.

Up for grabs in the May 10 elections are 222 seats in the House of Representatives; 80 each for governors and vice governors; 762 provincial board members; 120 each for city mayors and vice mayors; 1,514 each for municipal mayors and vice mayors; 1,346 for city councilors; and 12,116 for municipal councilors.

The Comelec indicated that violence during elections have historically come from local contests of the position. This is the case in places verified by the poll body to have 43 partisan armed groups and 25 unconfirmed ones scattered throughout the country. The Philippine National Police (PNP), in its February report indicated that 35 percent of the country's 1,634 towns and cities have seen election-related violence.

The entire Mindanao, including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), remains on full alert which indicates that the police would be on a round-the-clock lookout for private armed groups it earlier identified "so we can prevent their plans of conducting criminal activities against rival candidates".

While the PNP has created special task groups to monitor 95 private armies reportedly operating in provinces identified as "election hot spots" in anticipation of a possible escalation of election-related violence. While the heat of the campaign season is on, the challenge is up for every candidate and their supporters to be mindful of their actions and for the electorate to remain vigilant and to hold these candidates accountable. Email comments to roledan@gmail.com