The son and namesake of ousted Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos took the lead in an unofficial vote count in Monday’s presidential election in the deeply divided Asian democracy.
With 80% of the tabulated votes, Marcos Jr. had 25.9 million, far ahead of his closest rival, current Vice President Leni Robredo, a human rights advocate, who had 12.3 million.
The winner of the election will take office on June 30 for a single six-year term as leader of a Southeast Asian nation hit hard by two years of COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns.
Even more challenging problems include deeper poverty and unemployment, and decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies. The next president is also likely to hear calls to impeach outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte for thousands of murders during his anti-drug crackdown, deaths already under investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Duterte’s daughter, the mayor of the southern city of Davao, Sara Duterte, is Marcos Jr.’s running mate for the vice presidency in an alliance of descendants of two authoritarian leaders. Her association has combined the voting power of her northern and southern political strongholds, increasing her chances but compounding the concerns of human rights activists.
Sara Duterte also had a formidable lead with 25.8 million votes for the vice presidency in the unofficial count on the Election Commission’s server. The president and vice president are elected separately in the Philippines.
“History can repeat itself if they win,” said Myles Sanchez, a 42-year-old human rights worker. “There may be a repeat of the martial law and drug killings that occurred under his parents.”
In a late-night video statement, Marcos Jr. did not claim victory but thanked his supporters for joining him on “this sometimes very difficult journey” and urged them to keep their guard up until the count is complete. votes.
“Let’s watch the vote,” he said. “If we are lucky, I hope that your help will not decrease, your confidence will not decrease because we have a lot of things to do in the times ahead.”
Marcos Jr., whose father was overthrown in an army-backed “Power Popular” uprising in 1986, had a commanding lead in pre-election polls. But Robredo seized on the shock and outrage at the prospect of Marcos regaining the seat of power and harnessed a network of campaign volunteers to back his candidacy.
Officials said the election was relatively peaceful despite pockets of violence in the country’s volatile south. Thousands of police and military were deployed to protect polling stations, especially in rural regions with a history of violent political rivalry.
Filipinos formed long lines to cast their ballots, and the start of voting was delayed by a few hours in some areas due to voting machine malfunctions, power outages, bad weather and other problems.
Eight others were in the presidential race, including former boxer Manny Pacquiao, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and former national police chief Senator Panfilo Lacson.
Sánchez said the violence and abuses that marked the martial law era under Marcos, and Duterte’s war on drugs more than three decades later, victimized loved ones from two generations of his family. His grandmother was sexually abused and his grandfather tortured by counter-insurgency troops under Marcos in the early 1980s in his impoverished farming village in Southern Leyte province.
Under Duterte’s crackdown, Sánchez’s brother, sister and sister-in-law were unjustly linked to illegal drugs and killed separately, she told The Associated Press in an interview. She described the murders of her brothers as “a nightmare that has caused indescribable pain”.
He begged Filipinos not to vote for politicians who openly advocated widespread killings or conveniently looked the other way.
Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte avoided such volatile issues in the campaign and steadfastly adhered to the rallying cry of national unity, even as their parents’ presidencies opened up some of the Philippines’ most turbulent divisions.
“I learned in our campaign not to retaliate,” Sara Duterte told supporters Saturday night on the final day of the campaign, where she and Marcos Jr. thanked a large crowd in a night of rap music, dance and fireworks near Manila Bay.
At his own rally, Robredo thanked supporters who weighed in on his star-studded outings and waged a house-to-house battle to support his brand of clean, practical politics. He asked them to fight for patriotic ideals beyond the elections.
“We have learned that those who have awakened will not close their eyes again,” Robredo told a crowd that packed the main avenue of the capital’s Makati financial district. “It is our right to have a decent future and it is our responsibility to fight for it.”
In Maguindanao province, a security hotspot in the south, three village guards were killed by gunmen outside a polling station in Buluan city, briefly disrupting voting. Nine would-be voters and their companions were separately injured Sunday night when unidentified men fired five rifle grenades at Datu Unsay town hall, police said.
Aside from the presidency, more than 18,000 government posts are up for grabs, including half of the 24-member Senate, more than 300 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as provincial and local offices across the archipelago of more than 109 million Filipinos.
More than 67 million people registered to vote, including about 1.6 million overseas Filipinos.
In the 2016 race, Duterte emerged as the clear winner just hours after the polls closed, and his main rivals quickly relented. That year’s vice-presidential race was narrowly won by Robredo over Marcos Jr., and the result was slow in coming.