How Maguindanao massacre will affect 2010 polls

by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Reuters

Posted at Nov 27 2009 04:06 PM | Updated as of Nov 28 2009 12:06 AM

MANILA - Philippine police have taken into custody the main suspect in the killing of 57 people in the south of the country earlier this week, an election-related massacre that has sparked worldwide condemnation.
  
Here are some questions and answers on what this means for the elections next year and future politics in the country: 
   
WILL THE KILLNGS AFFECT THE MAY 2010 ELECTIONS? 
  
Violence has always accompanied balloting in the Philippines and about 130 people were killed at the last national polls in 2007. The massacre was horrific, and is the biggest single bout of election-related violence, but it most probably will not have a long-lasting impact. 
  
Indeed, the government crackdown on the powerful Ampatuan family, whose supporters are suspected to have perpetrated the killings, could have a sobering effect. 
   
WHAT DOES THE MASSACRE MEAN FOR PRESIDENT ARROYO? 
  
The Ampatuans have previously been called valuable political allies by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and many commentators have said her support has emboldened the clan.
  
But the taking into custody of Andal Ampatuan Jr on Thursday, and moves by the government to break the family's stranglehold on Maguindanao province, demonstrate its willingness to crack down.
  
Arroyo is not eligible to contest next year's elections, but her Lakas-Kampi-CMD alliance has already made its position known by expelling the Ampatuan patriarch and two of his sons from the party. 
   
IS THE MASSACRE RELATED TO MUSLIM REBELS? 
  
Not really. The massacre was the continuation of a clan feud between the Ampatuans and the rival Mangudadatu family, one of hundreds in the south of the country. Rido, or clan feuds, have been a way of life in the Mindanao region for centuries, and both Christian and Muslim families are involved.
  
The Mangudadatu family controls adjoining Sultan Kudarat province and there have been sporadic clashes between the large private armies over several months. The Mangudadatu plan to contest the Maguindanao governor's post in next year's elections provided the spark for the killings.
  
The country's largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Front (MILF), is based in Maguindanao and is fiercely opposed to the Ampatuans. But some among the Mangudadatus are also uncomfortable with the MILF, since they control a provincial government and do not want anything to do with a rebel outfit. 
  
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW? 
  
The government's main aim is to ensure that there is no retaliation against the Ampatuans by the Mangudadatus, which could lead to spiralling violence in an area where security forces are thinly stretched.
  
For now, it looks as if the government is intent on diluting the Ampatuan family's grip on local politics and establishing the rule of law.
  
It is highly unlikely the feuding or its aftermath will spread north toward Manila and the densely populated Luzon region, where the country's industry and financial markets are located.
  
In electoral terms, it is also unlikely that Maguindanao will return an administration candidate en bloc, as it did for Arroyo in 2004, but the number of votes in the region will only make a marginal difference in the overall tallies.