Aquino poised to become Philippine president

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 02 2010 11:18 AM | Updated as of May 03 2010 07:25 AM

MANILA - The Philippines' presidential election campaign enters its final phase this week with surveys showing Benigno Aquino headed for an historic win, but tensions remain high with fears of cheating and violence.

Aquino has deftly capitalized on the legacy of his democracy hero parents by promising to fight corruption, following 9 years of rule under President Arroyo that have been marred by allegations of massive graft.

"People want somebody they can trust and to clean up the mess Mrs Arroyo will leave behind," said Ramon Casiple, a political analyst and executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

"Noynoy Aquino is headed for a landslide win, based on all the major surveys."

Nevertheless, with just over a week to go before the May 10 elections, one of Asia's most vibrant democracies remains capable of conjuring up all manner of surprises.

Ex-movie star Joseph Estrada insists he can pull off what would be one of the country's greatest political comebacks, after he was deposed as president in 2001 amid charges of massive corruption for which he was later convicted.

While Aquino has 39 percent support, according to a Pulse Asia opinion poll released last week, Estrada's numbers have climbed to 20 percent to place him in a tie for second place alongside business titan Manny Villar.

"They (his rivals) will get the surprise of their lives," Estrada, 73, said after the Pulse Asia survey was released.

Villar, meanwhile, has pointed to his formidable political machinery across the nation as a major reason why he should still not be discounted.

One of the ominous backdrops to the elections is a fear that an automated polling system being used for the first time could fall victim to cheating or technical failures.

About 50 million people are eligible to cast their ballots in more than 80,000 polling stations across this vast archipelago, and critics of the automated system have warned it could be beset by a myriad of problems.

Meanwhile, Aquino has said cheating, and not the legitimate challenge of any rival, is the biggest obstacle between him and victory.

Philippine Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales also said there would be cheating in elections, although he did not identify by whom.

"I'm telling you that the cheating has begun," Gonzales said last week.

Philippine elections have traditionally been characterized by violence, and this campaign season has been no exception.

Thirty-three people have been killed and 31 others wounded in political violence during the official 3-month election campaign, according to national police chief Jesus Verzosa.

This does not include 57 people who were murdered late last year in the southern province of Maguindanao.

The massacre was allegedly carried out by a local Muslim warlord and Arroyo ally who wanted to stamp out the challenge of a political rival.

Aside from the presidency, more than 17,000 posts -- from seats in the national parliament to town councilors -- are up for grabs in the election.

It is typically in the battles for the lower-ranking positions that the violence flares, with politicians seeking to intimidate or eliminate their rivals instead of beating them at the ballot box.

Amid the chaos, the quietly spoken, bespectacled Aquino has sought to portray an air of calm while assuring voters he can deliver on the promise of his famous parents.

Aquino, 50, is the son of Corazon Aquino, who led the "people power" revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. She then earned a reputation for honesty during 6 years as president.

An outpouring of sympathy following her death from cancer last year propelled her son from low-key senator to presidential frontrunner.

His father, also named Benigno, was shot dead at Manila's airport in 1983 as he tried to return from US exile to fight Marcos's dictatorship, and he remains a revered political martyr.