MANILA: The son of late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos on Tuesday headed for a historic landslide victory in the country’s presidential election, after Filipinos brushed aside warnings about weakening their already fragile democracy. Nearly 40 years after his namesake father was deposed by a popular revolt and his family chased into exile, Ferdinand Marcos Jr had garnered more than double the number of votes of his nearest rival, according to an unofficial tally of results.
With more than 84 percent of precincts reporting, Marcos had received over 27 million votes to liberal candidate Leni Robredo’s 12.9 million. If sustained, the tally – published by local media from Commission on Elections figures – would make Marcos the first Philippine president since his father’s ouster to be elected with an absolute majority.
It would also signal an astonishing turnaround for the fortunes of the Marcos clan, who have come from being pariahs to in reach of the presidential palace in a generation. Marcos’ campaign was marked by a relentless online whitewashing of his father’s brutal and corrupt regime, as well as an embrace of current authoritarian president Rodrigo Duterte, who retains widespread popular support.
Before polling day, rights activists, Catholic leaders and political analysts had warned Marcos Jr could rule with an even heavier fist if he wins by a large margin. Delivering a late-night address from his campaign headquarters in Manila, a tired but beaming Marcos thanked volunteers for months of “sacrifices and work”. But he stopped short of claiming victory, warning that “the count is not yet done”. “Let’s wait until it’s very clear, until the count reaches a hundred percent then we can celebrate.”
Cleve Arguelles, a political science lecturer at Manila’s De La Salle University said it was already clear that “this will be a historic election” for the Philippines. The results are a crushing blow for supporters of Robredo, the incumbent vice president whose campaign morphed into a movement to defend democracy and brought almost a million people onto the streets in one recent rally.
Analyst Mark Thompson said there now needed to be soul searching among an opposition that needs to broaden its message beyond “good governance”. “They need to make clear that they’re going to improve the lives of the average Filipino,” said Thompson, who is director of the Southeast Asia Research Centre at the City University of Hong Kong.
Marcos was able to tap into widespread anger at a string of post-dictatorship governments, which many Filipinos believe had failed to materially improve their lives. Crucially, he also secured the support of several of the country’s powerful political dynasties, who through networks of patronage can be called on to deliver blocs of votes. Those alliances were set for a further victory with his running mate Sara Duterte garnering an even bigger lead over rivals in her vice presidential race. In the Philippines, the winner only has to get more votes than anyone else.
Election day began before dawn, as mask-clad voters formed long queues to cast their ballots in 70,000 polling stations across the archipelago. Polls officially closed 13 hours later at 7:00 pm (1100 GMT). At Mariano Marcos Memorial Elementary School in the northern city of Batac, the ancestral home of the Marcoses, voters waved hand fans to cool their faces in the tropical heat.
Bomb sniffer dogs swept the polling station before Marcos Jr, 64, arrived with his younger sister Irene and eldest son Sandro. They were followed by the family’s flamboyant 92-year-old matriarch Imelda, who was lowered from a white van while wearing a long, red top with matching trousers and slip-on flats. Sandro, 28, who is running for elected office for the first time in a congressional district in Ilocos Norte province, admitted the family’s history was “a burden”. But he added: “It’s one that we also try to sustain and protect and better as we serve.”
Casting her ballot for Robredo at a school in the central province of Camarines Sur, Corazon Bagay said the former congresswoman deserved to win. “She has no whiff of corruption allegations,” said the 52-year-old homemaker. “She’s not a thief. Leni is honest.”
Robredo, a 57-year-old lawyer and economist, had promised to clean up the dirty style of politics that has long plagued the feudal and corrupt democracy, where a handful of surnames hold sway. Marcos Jr and Duterte – both offspring of authoritarian leaders – have insisted they are best qualified to “unify” the country.
Hundreds of thousands of red-clad supporters turned out at Marcos Jr and Duterte’s raucous rally in Manila on Saturday, as they made a last push for votes. Josephine Llorca said successive governments since the 1986 revolution that ousted the family had failed to improve the lives of the poor. “We tried it and they were even worse than the Marcoses’ time,” she said.
Other candidates seeking the presidency included boxing legend Manny Pacquiao and former street scavenger turned actor Francisco Domagoso. Personality rather than policy typically influences many people’s choice of candidate, though vote-buying and intimidation are also perennial problems. More than 60,000 security personnel have been deployed to protect polling stations and election workers.
Police reported at least two deadly shootings at polling stations on the restive southern island of Mindanao that had left four people dead and three wounded. That followed a grenade attack on Sunday that injured nine people. Misinformation on social media, meanwhile, sought to confuse voters. The Commission on Elections branded as “fake and spurious” documents circulating online showing it had disqualified a senatorial hopeful and five political parties.
Whatever the result, Marcos Jr opponents have already vowed to pursue efforts to have him disqualified over a previous tax conviction and to extract billions of dollars in estate taxes from his family. “It’s another crossroads for us,” said Judy Taguiwalo, 72, an anti-Marcos activist who was arrested twice and tortured during the elder Marcos’ regime. “We need to continue to stand up and struggle.” – AFP