MANILA, May 9 — Voting was underway in the Philippines today to elect a new president, with the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos the favourite to win the high-stakes election seen by many as a make-or-break moment for the country’s democracy.
Nearly 40 years after the patriarch was deposed by a popular revolt and the family chased into exile, Ferdinand Marcos Junior looks set to complete their remarkable comeback.
Ten candidates are vying to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte in the elections described as the most consequential in decades.
But only Marcos Jr and his rival Leni Robredo, the incumbent vice president, are seen as having a chance of winning.
People wearing masks began queueing before dawn to cast their votes outside primary schools and other venues used as polling stations, which opened at 6:00 am (2200 GMT Sunday) across the archipelago.
Voting was to continue until 7:00 pm.
Turnout is expected to be high among the more than 65 million Filipinos eligible to vote.
“Blockbuster. The long lines are magnificent. Filipinos wanted to be heard and heard loudly,” said George Garcia of the Commission on Elections in a message to reporters.
More than 60,000 security forces have been deployed to protect ballots and election workers.
The Philippines has a violent political culture but there were no immediate reports of incidents on election day.
After a bitter campaign, polls showed Marcos Jr heading for a landslide. He had a double-digit lead over Robredo in the latest surveys and she will need a low turnout or a late surge of support to get over the line.
In the Philippines the winner only has to get more votes than anyone else.
Since Robredo announced her bid for the top job in October, volunteer groups have mushroomed across the country seeking to convince voters to back what they see as a battle for the country’s soul.
But relentless whitewashing of the elder Marcos’s brutal and corrupt regime, support of rival elite families and public disenchantment with post-Marcos governments have fuelled the scion’s popularity.
After six years of Duterte’s authoritarian rule, rights activists, Catholic church leaders and political analysts fear Marcos Jr will be emboldened to lead with an even heavier fist if he wins by a large margin.
“We think it will worsen the human rights crisis in the country,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights alliance Karapatan.
While Marcos Jr had a 75 per cent chance of winning, the outcome was not guaranteed, said Eurasia Group analyst Peter Mumford, who warned potential complacency among his supporters could work in Robredo’s favour at the ballot box.
Robredo, a 57-year-old lawyer and economist, has promised to clean up the dirty style of politics that has long plagued the feudal and corrupt democracy where a handful of surnames hold sway over the country.
Marcos Jr and his running mate Sara Duterte — both offspring of authoritarian leaders — have insisted they are best qualified to “unify” the country, though what that means is unclear.
Hundreds of thousands of red-clad supporters turned out at Marcos Jr and Duterte’s raucous rally in Manila on Saturday, as they made a last push for votes.
Josephine Llorca said it was worth betting on another Marcos because successive governments after the 1986 revolution that ousted the family had failed to improve the lives of the poor.
“We tried it and they were even worse than the Marcoses’ time,” she said.
“We never saw any development. If the other anti-Marcos administrations did well then I don’t think we would have any BBM,” she said, referring to the ex-leader’s son, who is popularly known as “Bongbong”.
Surveys indicate Marcos Jr, 64, will win more than half the votes, which would make him the first presidential candidate to secure an absolute majority since his father was overthrown.
Political analyst Richard Heydarian warned such a big win could enable Marcos Jr to make constitutional changes to entrench his power and weaken democracy.
“(Rodrigo) Duterte never had the discipline and wherewithal to push his authoritarian agenda to its logical extreme,” Heydarian said.
“That historic opportunity could fall on the lap of the Marcoses.”
Other candidates seeking the presidency include boxing legend Manny Pacquiao and former street scavenger turned actor Francisco Domagoso.
Personality rather than policy typically influences many people’s choice of candidate, though vote-buying and intimidation are also perennial problems in Philippine elections.
Allegations of dirty tactics marred the final week of the bitter presidential campaign, as Marcos Jr warned of electoral fraud while Robredo accused him of being a “liar”.
In a rousing speech to hundreds of thousands of supporters on Saturday, Robredo declared: “Victory awaits us.”
Whatever the result, though, Marcos Jr opponents have already vowed to pursue efforts to have him disqualified over a previous tax conviction and extract billions of dollars in estate taxes from his family.
“It’s another crossroads for us,” said Judy Taguiwalo, 72, an anti-Marcos activist who was arrested twice and tortured during martial law.
“We need to continue to stand up and struggle.” — AFP