Aquino leads in Philippines on anticorruption platform
Ex-leader’s son has 40% of vote
MANILA — The son of two Philippine democracy icons widened his lead today in presidential elections after campaigning on a promise to begin prosecuting corrupt officials to restore credibility to the country’s graft-ridden government agencies.
Despite counting machine glitches and violence that claimed at least nine lives, election officials hailed yesterday’s vote as a success in a country where poll fraud allegations have marred previous contests.
Senator Benigno Aquino III — whose father was assassinated while opposing a dictatorship and whose mother led the “people power’’ revolt that restored freedoms — was leading the nine-candidate presidential race with 40.19 percent of the votes from about 78 percent of the precincts, while his closest rival, Joseph Estrada, a former president, had 25.46 percent.
There is no runoff in the Philippines and whoever has the most votes is declared winner.
Aquino’s sudden political rise bolstered hopes among his supporters for a clean leadership after nine years of a scandal-tainted administration that was rocked by coup attempts and protests.
He campaigned on a strong antigraft platform, promised to start prosecuting corrupt officials within weeks of his election, and to restore integrity to Congress and the judiciary.
It was only after Corazon Aquino, the former president, 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 for the leader who ousted longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1986 “people power’’ revolt and restored democracy to the Philippines.
Benigno Aquino’s closest political lieutenant, Florencio Abad, a former education secretary, said he rode on the crest of a national yearning for an honest leader after corruption scandals under the outgoing president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
“This means he really has to deal with the problem of corruption and deal with the people identified with nine years of corruption,’’ Abad said.
“The other thing that he needs to do is to translate the dividends of good governance into direct benefits for the poor — education, health, food, lower prices, jobs, basic services,’’ he said.
Computer problems and campaign-related violence, which has killed more than 30 people in the past three months and an additional nine on election day, were the main concerns in the voting, which officials hope will set a new standard for the country’s fragile democracy. Turnout was 75 percent among about 50 million eligible voters, the Elections Commission said.
“The people came in droves, the turnout was very encouraging. The machines worked more than we expected,’’ said commission chairman Jose Melo. “I would say it was successful.’’
For the first time, optical scanning machines counted the votes in 76,000 precincts. A software glitch discovered a week ago nearly derailed the vote. Still, some machines malfunctioned in the tropical humidity, including in Aquino’s hometown of Tarlac, north of Manila, where the senator had to wait nearly five hours to cast his ballot.