Philippines presidential race narrows to Marcos Jr and human rights lawyer
Voters in the Philippines are choosing their next leader as part of nationwide elections.
The presidential race seems to have narrowed to a choice between the son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and a human rights lawyer, the current vice president Leni Robredo.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr has refused to acknowledge human rights abuses and plunder during his father’s dictatorship and has appealed for national unity.
The next president will lead a nation battered by a sagging economy and likely will face calls to prosecute outgoing leader Rodrigo Duterte for thousands of deaths as part of his crackdown on illegal drugs.
The International Criminal Court has been investigating the killings of thousands of mostly poor petty drug suspects as a possible crime against humanity.
A triumph by Mr Marcos would be a stunning reversal of the 1986 pro-democracy uprising that booted his father from office into global infamy.
Many Filipinos aware of the human rights atrocities and plunder that unfolded under the elder Marcos dictatorship would likely push back against any perceived threat to democracy or attempt by Mr Marcos to recover assets seized from his family as ill-gotten wealth.
The election winner inherits immense problems, including an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic, deeper poverty and unemployment, hyperinflation due to skyrocketing oil and gas prices, decades-old insurgencies and inflamed political divisions.
The 64-year-old Mr Marcos is making the most impressive attempt yet of the Marcos family to recapture the presidency.
His mother, Imelda Marcos, twice unsuccessfully attempted to retake the seat of power after returning with her children to the Philippines from exile in the United States, where her husband died in 1989.
Mr Marcos has defended his father’s legacy and steadfastly refuses to apologise for or acknowledge the atrocities and plunder during the dictatorship.
Married to a lawyer, with whom he has three sons, he has stayed away from controversies, including a past tax conviction and the Marcos family’s refusal to pay a huge estate tax.
Throughout his campaign, he tenaciously stuck to a battle cry of national unity.
He denies accusations that he financed a long social media campaign that harnessed online trolls to smear opponents and whitewash the Marcos family’s chequered history.
Mr Marcos’s main challenger, Ms Robredo, was an economics student at the University of the Philippines in the 1980s, where she joined the massive protests that led to the removal of the elder Marcos.
The 57-year-old also took up law and won a seat in the House of Representatives in 2013 in her first foray into politics after her husband, a respected politician, died in a plane crash in 2012.
She defeated Mr Marcos in the 2016 vice presidential race with a narrow margin in their first electoral face-off. Her advocacies centre on defending human rights and empowering the poor partly by teaching them their legal rights.
The daughter of a trial court judge, Ms Robredo does not belong to any of the prominent families that have dominated Philippine politics for generations, and is running as an independent propped by a network of campaign volunteers.
As the opposition vice president, who was separately elected from Mr Duterte, she condemned the killings of mostly poor drug suspects as part of his crackdown, angering the brash-talking leader and straining their ties for years.
The mother-of-three has been cited for her integrity and a lifestyle that shuns the trappings of power – she used to regularly travel alone by bus to her home province as a congresswoman.
Eight other presidential aspirants have lagged far behind in pre-elections surveys, including Manny Pacquiao, the 43-year-old former boxing star, who vowed to build houses for the poor and lock up corrupt politicians in a “mega-prison”.
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, a 47-year-old former TV heartthrob, banked on his rags-to-power life story and public awe over his massive clean-up of the capital.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, a 73-year-old former national police chief, has promised to continue exploiting his investigative skills to expose major government corruption.
Aside from the presidency, more than 18,000 government posts will be contested in the elections, including half of the 24-member senate, more than 300 seats in the house of representatives, as well as provincial and local offices across the archipelago of more than 109 million Filipinos.
About 67 million people are registered to cast their ballot. Voting will take place over 13 hours on Monday, with the one-hour extension intended to compensate for slower queues due to social distancing and other coronavirus safeguards.
After voting centres close, thousands of counting machines around the country will send unofficial results to be tallied.
A partial, unofficial count could reveal a clear winner within hours, but a close race could take longer. The official count and canvassing by Congress may take weeks.
Thousands of police and military personnel have been deployed given longstanding risks posed by communist and Muslim rebels and a history of often bloody family and political rivalries in rural areas.
In 2009, gunmen deployed by the family of southern Maguindanao province’s then-governor massacred 58 people, including 32 journalists, in an attack on an election convoy that shocked the world.
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