South Korean election technology provider Miru Systems has taken a step closer to securing a contract with the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) for the 2025 elections, despite its track record of having anomalous contracts and allegations of electoral fraud in its previously handled elections.
If the almost P18-billion bid is approved, the joint venture by Miru and three other companies will replace Smartmatic as the provider of the country’s automated election system in the 2025 election cycle.
Miru’s bid was initially thrown out last December 2023 due to deficiencies in its bidding documents but has since been declared by COMELEC as the lowest single calculated bid. They will now undergo the post-qualification stage, where their capacity to meet the contract's legal, technical, and financial requirements will be reviewed.
However, the election technology company’s track record in securing contracts is questionable at best.
For example, in securing its contracts for elections in developing countries such as Fiji, Ecuador, and El Salvador, from 2015 to 2017, Miru Systems allegedly signed an exclusive deal with South Korea’s Official Development Assistance program, the country’s official foreign aid.
The deal, worth USD4.4 million (P247 million), was inked with a nongovernment organization, A-web, funded by South Korea’s National Election Commission (NEC). Instead of going through an open bidding process, the contract was directly granted to Miru and is therefore illegal.
A South Korean lawmaker further alleged that at least one NEC employee was investigated for receiving “inappropriate perks” from Miru Systems.
Even setting this aside, the elections handled by the company have been regularly marred with electoral fraud. Since 2018, many developing countries using automated election technology provided by Miru Systems have cited election irregularities.
Iraq ordered a manual recount of the 2018 elections after their electoral body ignored concerns over Miru’s overpriced machines and the credibility of their automated systems. Human Rights Watch, the US government, and Congolese activists also protested the use of Miru’s machines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018 over concerns about possible election fraud.
Both of these incidents were reported to be due to technical glitches in Miru’s voting machines, which triggered contested election results in both countries.
Moreover, security vulnerabilities also threatened ballot secrecy, ultimately convincing Argentina to reject Miru’s services in its 2017 national elections.
Regardless, COMELEC spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco said Miru’s post-qualification evaluation is “going smoothly,” and should be expected to finish around the end of February. If COMELEC deems that the company’s capabilities are deficient, it could still reject the bid and open another round of bidding.
Miru Systems also stressed that the allegations of electoral fraud against them are false and that their automated systems follow international standards.
The previous election technology provider, Smartmatic, was banned from “all COMELEC procurement” last year due to money laundering and conspiracy charges against former COMELEC Chairperson Andres Bautista filed by the US Department of Homeland Security, similar to Miru’s alleged scheme in 2018.
“The question is that is a pending investigation enough to be grounds for disqualification? Take note that the [investigation] is not even here in the Philippines, it is in another jurisdiction. …an investigation is premature, hindi pa tapos. What if ang result ng investigation is innocent pala si Smartmatic?” election lawyer Emil Marañon said in an interview with the Collegian.
Smartmatic has since challenged the ban, but the Supreme Court did not temporarily halt the bidding process. The court can also issue a status quo ante order to revert the status of the bidding process to before the disqualification, Marañon said. However, the high tribunal has remained mum on the issue.
While election watchdogs were invited to watch Miru’s demonstration of their systems, some still urged COMELEC to be wary of the company.
“With these alarming reports from independent sources, we continue to urge [COMELEC] to deeply investigate these issues that might affect the integrity of our 2025 midterm elections. Facts and evidence must be the sole qualifier in this process and not simply statements in response by the proponents,” watchdog group Democracy Watch said. ●
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