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Philippines: Polling officials race to make May 10 vote happen

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Philippine presidential candidates wrapped up their election campaigns in a festival-style atmosphere on Saturday, as polling officials raced to deliver vote-counting software to remote precincts, reported AFP.

Three months of intense campaigning were due to officially end at midnight with 50-year-old bachelor Benigno Aquino looking set to win Monday's election in a landslide and continue the legacy of his democracy-champion parents.

"The dawn is near... the people are hungry for a new leadership," Aquino told a cheering crowd of roughly 10,000 people at his final major campaign rally in Manila late on Friday night.

Aquino's rally featured pop singers, movie stars and comedians delivering routines that were flashed on giant screens.

The skits included a woman dressed as an angel telling the crowd she was sent from heaven by Aquino's late mother, former president Corazon Aquino who led the revolution that overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

His two main rivals, former president Joseph Estrada and business titan Manny Villar, held simultaneous rallies in other parts of Manila on Friday night.

Villar's event had the air of a festive television game show transplanted into the badlands of Manila's dockyards, highlighting his message of being a candidate for the poor.

With shipping containers and Manila's infamous Smokey Mountain rubbish dump as the backdrop, Villar entertained thousands of slum dwellers with scantily-clad women dancers, singers, and show business personalities.

Aquino spent Saturday in his home town of Tarlac, his family's political and economic stronghold for generations, where he travelled in a motorcade aboard a flatbed truck in a final salute to his supporters.

No campaigning is allowed on Sunday to allow a cooling-off period before the polls, when about 40 million Filipinos are expected to elect a new president, members of parliament and more than 17,000 other positions.

Philippine elections are always plagued by violence, and dozens of people have been killed in recent months as the political tensions built.

In the latest violence, unidentified assailants shot an election officer in the stomach on Friday night on the restive southern island of Mindanao.

The election officer survived but two people died in the central Philippines earlier on Friday when communist rebels attacked a group of soldiers, highlighting the varied security threats across the country.

Meanwhile, election officials were working frantically to deliver memory cards to roughly 80,000 vote counting machines across the vast archipelago after an initial batch of the chips were found to be faulty.

The embarrassing technical glitch, only discovered one week before the vote, highlighted concerns across the political spectrum about the potential for the election to fall victim to ineptitude or fraud.

The Philippines is using computers to tally the votes for the first time in a bid to speed up the process and minimise the cheating that has tarnished previous elections.

But Aquino and other presidential candidates have warned cheating in many varied forms is still likely to occur. The reformatted cards, which let computers count the votes and transmit the results, are being rushed to more than 70,000 precincts, Commission on Elections official Gregorio Larrazabal said.

Larrazabal said the cards had reached some precincts in time for a final testing on Sunday, but conceded some may not reach certain remote areas on time. He said this would not cause an election failure, since people would still be able to cast their votes. However, this would delay the count in these areas.

"What is important is the people can vote. The (memory) cards can be delivered afterwards," he added.


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