Sunday, December 26, 2010

Noynoy in the lead

Aquinos' Son Has Big Lead in Philippines Race

AOL News, May 7, 2010 -- A son of pro-democracy icons looks set to win Monday's presidential election in the Philippines. But problems with a new automated voting system have cast a shadow of anxiety over the vote.

A win for leading candidate Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino would return power to a dynasty that has near saint-like status in the Philippines.

His father, Ninoy Aquino, was a democracy activist and vocal opponent of martial law. He was gunned down and killed at Manila Airport in 1983. His mother, Corazon Aquino, subsequently led the famous "People Power" movement that ended martial law and ushered in democracy. She was later elected president from 1986 to 1992.

But skeptics doubt whether their uncharismatic son can effectively tackle the problems -- especially corruption -- that have fed the country's decline from one of Asia's richest nations after World War II to a perennial laggard.

"He has done a very, very effective job as presenting himself as the least corrupt candidate," said Pete Troilo, director of business intelligence at Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a risk consultancy. "But I doubt that he has the fire in the belly to really implement the shift in governance that the Philippines needs."

Aquino has 42 percent support, up four points from mid-April. Two trailing contenders are in a statistical tie at almost 20 percent each, according to a poll released today.

That makes Aquino an overwhelming favorite to win Monday's vote, although his competitors insist a comeback isn't impossible.

The wrench in the works: A new automated voting system, to be used for the first time in a nationwide election, was found to have serious glitches in a final test this week.

The technical hiccup led to talk of a possible postponement of the election. That could result in a succession crisis since the current, unpopular president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, must step down June 30 according to the constitution. For now, election officials are insisting the vote will go ahead Monday.

Philippines elections are notorious for deadly violence, vote-buying and other fraud, and post-vote protests. Recent years have also seen frequent worries that Arroyo may try to extend her term. Arroyo's government has repeatedly denied this and said she will step down as legally required.

Any technical snafus delaying a result could fuel such conspiracy theories and worsen the Philippines' usual post-election unrest. Troilo, the risk consultant, said his firm is forecasting an "extremely high level of protests" after the election because of the uncertainty of the new voting system. "Apprehension is at an all-time high," he said.

Under pressure to ensure the new system works smoothly, Philippines election commission officials recently did something typical in this heavily Roman Catholic country.

They prayed. A lot.

"We pray, O God, that by your Divine Intervention, we will have the most honest, peaceful and orderly elections on May 10, 2010, of which we can be proud as the most credible electoral exercise in the history of our nation," said Commission on Elections chairman Jose Melo, in a prayer session at the commission's office with the Archbishop of Manila, according to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Corazon Aquino's death last year led to an emotional outpouring and calls for Noynoy to take up the torch and run for office. He agreed reluctantly to follow his parents' path -- after retreating to a convent to seek spiritual guidance. "Why should I veer away from their footprints?" he told Time magazine.

But critics note that he served in the Philippines Senate without distinction and say he lacks the strong personality needed to clean up Philippines politics. The country ranked No. 139 in Transparency International's 180-country Corruption Perception Index last year, far worse than China (79), India (84) or even Indonesia (111).

Others complain that Aquino represents just another elite, landed family and as such won't likely be able to address the Philippines' sharp rich-poor divide. The country's per-person GDP, at $3,300 on a purchasing-power basis, lags behind many Asian peers, and about one-third of the Philippines' 100 million population live in poverty, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Aquino's main rival, Manuel Villar, is a self-made billionaire with a rags-to-riches story, who has tried to run a populist campaign promising more significant land reform. But his numbers have sagged in recent weeks amid criticism that he's too close to the deeply unpopular, outgoing president, Arroyo.

Villar is now statistically tied with movie star and former President Joseph Estrada, who was ousted in 2001 by a second "People Power" movement amid allegations of corruption.

The Philippines' economy relies in part on huge remittances from Filipinos working abroad. The country is also Asia's second biggest call center outsourcing location after India, hosting operations by most of the top U.S. outsourcing firms.

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