PH vote seen as referendum on Aquino

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 13 2013 06:23 AM | Updated as of May 13 2013 02:24 PM

MANILA - The Philippines goes to the polls Monday to choose thousands of local leaders plus national legislators in what is seen as a referendum on the presidency of reformist Benigno Aquino.

Police and the military have been placed on heightened alert for expected poll-related violence that has already claimed about 60 lives since campaigning began in February.

"The president is asking voters to put their confidence in those on the administration slate to help him carry out the rest of his reform agenda as they have committed," deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte told AFP.

"We reiterate our appeal for everybody to go out and exercise your right to suffrage and your right to vote."

Polls open at 7 am nationwide for more than 52 million eligible voters.

At stake are more than 18,000 positions, ranging from town and city mayors to provincial governors and members of the legislature in an exercise traditionally dominated by political dynasties, but also attracting colourful characters.

Aquino won the presidency by a landslide in 2010 on a promise to crush the corruption which he blames for widespread poverty in the nation of 100 million.

He has consistently scored high popularity ratings for nursing the Philippines back to fiscal health and prosecuting erring officials, including predecessor Gloria Arroyo, now in detention while being tried for alleged massive corruption.

The reforms have received international praise and won international credit ratings upgrades.

Aquino is also close to signing a final peace deal with the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), potentially ending a rebellion in the south that has killed more than 150,000 since the 1970s.

The aim is to get both houses of parliament -- the Senate and the House of Representatives -- to pass a law creating a new autonomous region to be governed by the MILF in the south.

All the seats in the lower house and half in the Senate are being contested in Monday's mid-term elections.

Valte said Monday's vote was a referendum of sorts for Aquino, who has promised more reforms in the second half of his six-year term.

"If you are happy with what you have seen in the past three years, (and) if you want us to continue, then vote for Team PNoy," she said, referring to Aquino's nickname.

Budget secretary Florenio Abad, a strategist for Aquino's Liberal Party, said the president in the next three years would focus on expanding the tax base and reforming the mining sector so that big firms pay higher taxes.

But problems that have long plagued the Philippines are also expected to mar Monday's vote, including politicians who jostle for power by bribing, intimidating or launching attacks against opponents.

Activists have also long called for a ban on political dynasties whose stranglehold on the country has led to a chasm between the rich and the poor.