Philippine midterm vote ends with less violence

By Hrvoje Hranjski

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 13 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Indigenous people living around the slopes of Mount Pinatubo volcano known as Aetas, line up to vote in the country's midterm election at a polling precinct in a remote village of Zambales province, about 250 kilometers (160 miles) northwest of Manila, Philippines Monday, May 13, 2013. More than 50 million Filipinos are expected to troop to polling centers to elect senators, congressmen and down to municipal mayors for the country's midterm elections.

Bullit Marquez, Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines — Less violence than usual and expected glitches in voting machines marked Monday's congressional and local elections in the Philippines, which will gauge popular support for the president's anti-corruption drive and other reforms.

Elections Commission Chairman Sixto Brillantes said he expected turnout of 70 percent. More than 52 million voters registered to elect 18,000 officials, including half of the 24-member Senate, nearly 300 members of the House of Representatives and leaders of a Muslim autonomous region in the south, where Islamic insurgents and militants are a concern.

Results are expected within a day or two.

The ballots were stacked with familiar names of at least 250 political families who have monopolized power across the country, from former first lady Imelda Marcos, 83, to newly minted politicians like boxing star Manny Pacquiao.

"Wherever you go, you see the names of these people since we were kids. It is still them," businessman Martin Tunac, 54, said after voting in Manila. "One of the bad things about political dynasties is they control everything, including business."

Critics worry that a single family's stranglehold on different levels of government could stymie checks against abuses and corruption. A widely cited example is the 2009 massacre of 58 people, including 32 media workers, in an ambush blamed on rivalry between powerful clans in southern Maguindanao province.

Violence was less pronounced this year, with no Election Day deaths reported as of Monday night, but at least 46 people have been killed in the run-up to the elections since January, police said.

On Monday, assailants lobbed a grenade at a school where the voting was under way in southern Marawi city, but missed and hit a house, wounding three people. Armed followers of a mayoral candidate clashed with marines in nearby Sulu province, where troops replaced local police.

The official election watchdog, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, said it received reports of breakdowns in some of about 80,000 voting machines, which are being used for only the second time since the 2010 presidential election. The supplier said it had expected 200 to 300 units to malfunction but had 2,000 replacements on standby.

At the end, Brillantes said the problems were minor and the polling generally smooth.

The outcome will determine the level of support for President Benigno Aquino III's reforms in his remaining three years in office. Aquino has been praised at home and abroad for cracking down on widespread corruption, backing key legislation and concluding an initial peace agreement with Muslim rebels.

But he cannot run for re-election and his choice of a candidate to succeed him, who will be expected to continue on the same reform path, will depend on the new political landscape.

The Aquino administration is confident they will maintain the majority in the House and the focus was on the Senate, said Ramon Casiple, head of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

"The implication of a Senate that is his ally is that he will have the needed support for his policies and programs," Casiple said. "Definitely he will not be a lame duck for the next three years because of that, much more if he maintains his popularity. This means they will be more in a position to contest the 2016 presidential elections on a more stable foundation."

Candidates backed by Aquino ran against a coalition headed by Vice President Jejomar Binay and deposed President Joseph Estrada. Although officially No. 2 in the country, Binay has emerged as the administration's rival and may be positioning himself for the 2016 race.

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