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NEWS UPDATES 10 May 2010

Violence, computer glitches mar Philippine elections

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Millions of Filipinos seeking a clean start after a decade of corruption-tainted politics voted in Monday's elections despite scattered violence and glitches with vote-counting machines being used for the first time, the Associated Press Reported.

Sen. Benigno Aquino III - whose father was assassinated while opposing a dictatorship and whose late mother led the "people power" revolt that restored freedoms - commanded a large lead in the presidential race, according to the last pre-election polls.

But even Aquino was unable to immediately cast his ballot, because a vote-counting machine broke down in his precinct. The Elections Commission extended voting for another hour to make up for delays.

Computer problems and campaign-related violence, which has killed more than 30 people in the past three months, were the main concerns in elections that officials hope will set a new standard for the Philippines' fragile democracy.

For the first time, optical scanning machines will count votes in 76,000 precints. A software glitch discovered a week ago nearly derailed the vote, but was fixed at the last minute. Still, some machines malfunctioned in the tropical humidity, including in Aquino's hometown of Tarlac, north of Manila.

"This is a new system of voting. We have a longer ballot, so I hope all the people can vote and not be delayed and I hope there will be no long lines of people outside when the voting ends," Aquino told reporters while waiting for the machine to be fixed.

In the past, manual counts in the world's second-biggest archipelago delayed results for weeks and were prone to fraud. Officials are now expecting early tallies just hours after polls close. About 50 million registered voters in this country of 90 million will elect politicians for posts from the presidency to municipal councils.

Election Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said about 300 out of 76,000 machines had problems but that most already were replaced, adding that the problems were "not as widespread as it's made to appear."

"And what's important is that if a machine breaks down, there is a replacement and there is a back-up procedure," he said.

Mario Barreto, 52, said it took him two hours to vote in an elementary school in Manila.

"The most difficult thing was to look for your name and lining up," Barreto said.

In another precinct, election volunteer Ging Pimentel said some of the names were missing from voter lists, slowing the process.

But a former election commission chairman, Christian Monsod, said the long lines of voters represent "a celebration of democracy."

"I was with the Indonesian delegation yesterday and they are here to learn from us because they are also going to automate. I told them you just watch, you watch how our people in elections are going to be disciplined," he said.

At least five people were killed and six wounded Monday, in addition to about 30 people gunned down in the last three months, police said.

Troops and gunmen exchanged fire in southern Maguindanao province, where 57 people were massacred in the country's worst election-related attack last year, said army Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer.

There were no casualties in Datu Salibo town but in nearby North Kabuntalan township, two civilians were killed in a clash between armed followers of rival candidates for vice mayor, Ferrer said.

About 130 deaths preceded the 2007 vote.

A restive and politicized military, weak central government, private armies and political dynasties have stymied democratic institutions for generations.

The next leader also will face multiple insurgencies. Muslim and communist rebels and al-Qaida-linked militants have long staged terrorist attacks and hostage raids from jungle hide-outs in the south, where U.S. troops have been training Filipino soldiers.

The next leader also faces entrenched corruption: Outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been accused of vote-rigging in 2004 and implicated in several scandals that led to coup attempts and moves to impeach her. Calls for her prosecution have been an important campaign issue. She denies any wrongdoing and is in running for a seat in the House of Representatives.

In an indication that Filipinos are looking for a fresh face to combat this old problem, Aquino has surged ahead of his two main rivals, according to recent independent presidential surveys.

Despite lacking their experience, Aquino rode on a family name that has revived poignant memories of the 1986 "people power" revolt his late mother led to oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos and restore democracy.

Former President Corazon Aquino had inherited the mantle of her husband, an opposition senator gunned down by soldiers at Manila's airport in 1983 upon return from U.S. exile to challenge Marcos.

It was only after she died of cancer last August that her son, a quiet 50-year-old lawmaker and bachelor, decided to run, spurred by the massive outpouring of national grief and yearning for a kind of inspirational leadership his mother had provided despite her shortcomings.

In an Associated Press interview last week, Aquino said he would start prosecuting corrupt officials within weeks if he's elected, sending a signal to investors and the public. He said he would create a commission to investigate Arroyo.

Aquino's two rivals carry the taint of scandal, all too common in the Philippines. The ratings of real estate tycoon Manny Villar, who was neck-and-neck with Aquino in early surveys, took a plunge after rivals accused him of using his position to enrich himself and avoid a Senate ethics probe.

Meanwhile, ousted President Joseph Estrada, who largely draws support from the poor, has jumped to overtake Villar as No. 2. The former action movie star was removed from office in 2001 and subsequently convicted on corruption charges. He was later pardoned by his nemesis, Arroyo.

In a country where celebrities commonly seek office, the jewel-studded former first lady Imelda Marcos is running for a House seat, as is boxing star Manny Pacquiao in his second congressional bid.


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