Five dead on eve of May 10 polls

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 09 2010 04:57 PM | Updated as of May 10 2010 01:34 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Five people were killed in the Philippines on Sunday as tensions flared on the eve of the country's first ever nationwide automated elections.

The build-up to the elections has been typically tumultuous for one of Asia's most free-wheeling democracies, with dozens of people killed, ferocious mudslinging and dark rumors of illegal power grabs.

Five people were shot dead on Sunday in two remote parts of the country involving gunmen loyal to local candidates, while communist guerrillas also destroyed five vote counting machines, authorities said.

But the military and police, which have deployed tens of thousands of personnel to protect polling stations, insisted Monday's elections were expected to proceed without major unrest.

"We expect some violent incidents here and there (but) we are prepared for the election. All systems are go," national police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina told reporters.

Election officials also said they would be ready when polls open and up to 80 percent of the 50 million eligible voters were expected to cast ballots using a computerized tallying system for the first time.

Liberal Party presidential candidate Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has established a huge lead over his rivals by pledging a new style of clean government following nearly 10 years of rule under President Gloria Arroyo, whose reign has been tainted by allegations of massive graft.

"The problems before us were caused by people putting their own selfish interests before the common good," Aquino, a balding 50-year-old bachelor, told thousands of cheering supporters at his final public rally in Manila on Friday.

If opinion polls are correct, Filipinos hungry for an end to the corruption that plagues the country are about to give Aquino the biggest win in Philippine election history.

Two major independent surveys released over the past week gave him voter support of between 39 and 42 percent, a two-to-one lead over closest rivals former president Joseph Estrada and property magnate Manny Villar.

The frontrunner is the only son of former president Corazon Aquino and her assassinated husband, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, who are revered by many for spearheading the restoration of Philippine democracy in the 1980s.

Aquino and his rivals have raised concerns about the credibility of the elections, amid fears of cheating and programming problems with computerized ballot readers.

But after a frantic effort to fix the technical bugs, the stage appears ready for the elections and all its colorful characters.

Among the big names is former movie star Estrada, 73, who was ousted in a 2001 coup and jailed for corruption but then pardoned by Arroyo.

Another is former first lady Imelda Marcos, 80, who gained global notoriety when thousands of her shoes were found in the presidential palace after her late husband Ferdinand's overthrow in 1986.

She is running for a seat in the lower house of the Philippines' US-style Congress, seeking to represent the northern province where her husband was born and remains a popular figure.

World welterweight boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, 31, is aiming for a similar position in the southern island of Mindanao, where the worst election-related violence has occurred.

Bloodshed has long been part of elections in the gun-crazy Philippines but even the coldest cynics were shaken to the core when 57 people in a convoy, including 31 journalists, were abducted and killed last November.

They were victims of an election power struggle between two Muslim clans in Mindanao.

Since then, at least 29 other people have been killed in political violence, including the victims of Sunday's violence, according to police figures.

More than 17,000 positions are at stake, from the president down to municipal council seats.

Arroyo, who is required by constitutional term limits to step down, is due to hand over power on June 30.

But she is controversially set to remain an influential figure as she is running for, and likely to win, a lower house seat representing her home town.