Deadly violence, technical bugs mar Monday election – Philippines Election

Posted at 05/10/2010 4:36 PM | Updated as of 05/10/2010 5:38 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Eight people were killed Monday as bouts of violence marred the Philippine elections and problems with vote-counting machines caused confusion and anger in the country’s first automated ballot.

More than 40 million Filipinos were expected to turn up at polling stations across the archipelago to elect a successor to President Gloria Arroyo, whose near decade-long rule has been tarnished by allegations of corruption.

Noynoy Aquino, a 50-year-old bachelor, is the favorite to win the presidency after riding a wave of popular sentiment for his democracy-hero parents.

But violence that always plagues Philippine politics, as well as problems with the nation’s first effort at using computers to count votes, fueled longstanding concerns about the whether the election would be credible.

"Many people are voting and there are many complaints," election commissioner Rene Sarmiento told reporters, although he insisted the vote would eventually be a success.

More than 17,000 positions are at stake — from president down to municipal council seats — and local politicians are infamous for using their own "private armies" to eliminate rivals or intimidate voters.

Eight people were killed across the Philippines on polling day, bringing the death toll from election-related violence over the past four months to 38, according to police statistics.

Two of the fatalities occurred as gun battles raged in the flashpoint southern province of Maguindanao, where 57 people died in a grisly election-linked massacre late last year.

The army, which deployed thousands of troops to Maguindanao to minimize the violence there, said soldiers engaged in a series of firefights with unknown assailants who fired rocket propelled grenades near polling stations.

Voters fled polling booths to escape the violence, while the military reported the two people who died were killed in clashes elsewhere between the private armies of rival candidates for a vice mayoral post.

Technological problems emerged immediately after polls opened with some machines breaking down, and the election commission was forced to extend the voting period by one hour.

Long queues formed at polling stations with the election commission estimating 85 percent of eligible voters would turn out.

Most embarrassingly for election organizers, Aquino was forced to wait five hours to vote in his northern home province of Tarlac because the original ballot-counting machine broken down.

"This should not have happened and it would not have happened if Comelec had done its job," said Aquino, referring to the election commission.

Fearing a poll meltdown, Aquino and other presidential candidates have for weeks been calling for a parallel manual count but the election commission has refused saying this would only sow further confusion.

Aquino’s main rivals are former president Joseph Estrada, 73, and property magnate Manny Villar, 60.

Two major independent surveys gave Aquino voter support of between 39 and 42 percent, a two-to-one lead over his challengers that places him on course for the biggest win in Philippine election history.

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.

However, the Philippines’ tumultuous brand of democracy is capable of delivering all manner of surprises, and Aquino’s win is no certainty.

Villar is counting on a vast nationwide political machinery to help him pull off a shock win, while former movie star Estrada retains strong support among the poor even after he was deposed as president in 2001 for being corrupt.

Many colorful characters are contesting the elections, including world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, 31, who is running for a seat in the nation’s lower house.

Another candidate for the lower house is 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.