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NEWS UPDATES 16 May 2010

Philippines: Aquino to be named president one week ahead of schedule

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Philippine lawmakers will convene a week earlier than scheduled for official tallying of votes from national elections, officials said on Saturday, enabling the early proclamation of Senator Benigno Aquino as president, reported Reuters. The smooth transfer of power in six weeks after a credible election process that produced a clear winner is widely seen as a positive development for improving long-term investor perception.

Prospero Nograles, speaker of the House of Representatives, told reporters lawmakers will also look into allegations of fraud by losing candidates, including former president Joseph "Erap" Estrada, running second in the presidential contest.

Estrada has refused to concede despite Aquino's more than 5 million votes margin in unofficial tallies, saying he will only accept defeat once the official tallying of votes is done by a joint session of Congress, which had been set to begin on May 31.

"Our target is June 4," Nograles said, referring to when the president and vice president would be officially named.

"We will not sacrifice accuracy for speed."

He added his counterpart in the upper house of Congress, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, had agreed to start tallying votes from 274 provinces, cities and foreign missions on May 24.

Estrada's allies have raised doubts over the accuracy and credibility of results transmitted by machines after they found discrepancies in tallies produced by machines. The elections were the first to use a new automated system of collating results.

The Commission on Elections has said discrepancies only amounted to around 150,000 votes, not nearly enough to affect the overall result of the presidential election.

"Many of us want to know and try to understand some of the areas where there are allegations of pre-programmed results by the machines," Nograles said.

Estrada's camp has also questioned Comelec's decision to destroy memory cards used in the balloting because evidence of fraud might be lost.

"If the Comelec so much as attempts to destroy the flash cards, which will be the key to determining these anomalies, they would be principal suspect in this massive electoral fraud," said Ernesto Maceda, a former senator and Estrada's campaign manager.

Analysts say despite some controversy and challenges -- entirely normal in the rough-and-tumble world of Philippine politics -- the smooth elections had been a boost for markets. Still, political squabbling could take some of the shine off recent market strength.

"The euphoria over the relatively orderly and peaceful election appears to be wearing off," Accord Capital said in a weekend market outlook report.

"We have begun to hear the familiar refrain from losing bets, more so from their supporters. The tight race for vice president between Senator Manuel Roxas and Mayor Jejomar Binay has provided the avenue to raise charges of electoral malfeasance," it said.

"The road to the June 30 transfer of power from Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to her successor and beyond doesn't seem be as smooth as what we may have felt after the May 10 elections."

On Saturday, the Commissions on Elections declared the winners for nine of 12 seats in the upper house of Congress after tallying about 93 percent of 35.27 million votes.

Only six of nine winners attended the proclamation ceremony. Five of the winners were re-elected to a second term, three are returning to the Senate and one is a brand-new senator.

An estimated 68 percent of more than 50 million registered voters cast their ballots on Monday, the commission said.


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