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Philippine polls give president solid control

Benigno Aquino becomes first leader to enjoy majority in both Senate and House, since democracy was restored in 1986.

Last Modified: 14 May 2013 13:04
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Cleanup starts a day after the May 13 midterm elections, which saw the ruling coalition win solid majority [EPA]

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has won an unprecedented control of the two chambers of Congress after midterm elections.

The victory will boost hopes for his reforms to sustain growth and alleviate poverty.

Unofficial votes tallies on Tuesday showed that Aquino's allies were poised to gain control of the Senate, with his coalition winning nine of a dozen seats up for grabs. 

The reformist president also appears to keep an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives, becoming the country's only president to enjoy a clear majority in Congress since democracy was restored in 1986.

"This is a strong result and a clear endorsement of Aquino's reform agenda on which he now looks likely to make more progress as he gains control of the Senate," said Euben Paracuelles, a Singaporean economist who works with Nomura, an investment bank.

But the political comeback of ousted former President Joseph Estrada, the leader of the opposition, who won as mayor of the capital Manila, could restrain Aquino's reform momentum beyond his term, which ends in 2016.

Results showed Estrada and his ally, the incumbent Vice President Jejomar Binay, remain a formidable force in Philippine politics and could stop Aquino's chosen successor from winning the next presidential elections in 2016.

Binay is expected to mount a strong presidential challenge.

Aquino, the only son of late president Corazon Aquino and her assassinated former senator husband, also called Benigno Aquino, won the presidency in 2010 on a platform of good governance and fighting corruption to cut poverty.

With impressive popularity ratings of more than 70 percent, Aquino has overseen a revival of investor interest in the country thanks to strong growth rates, improving public finances and his anti-graft drive.

The economy grew 6.6 percent in 2012, the fastest in the region after China. It also narrowed its fiscal gap and earned credit upgrades to investment grade in the last two months.

Electoral fraud

While allegations of vote-buying and fraud, and some incidents of violence, disrupted balloting in some places in the provinces, election organisers declared the vote a success.

The Election Commission expects to announce the winning senators on Wednesday.

Aquino still faces problems, with a poverty rate persistently high at 28 percent and no clear fall in unemployment.

Foreign direct investment also lags behind that of many neighbours.

The government wants to reform incentives given to investors to plug tax holes and raise more revenue.

Aquino is barred from running for another six-year term.

Meanwhile, political dynasties are poised to dominate the political life in the Philippines.

In the north, for instance, the long-time political opponents of the Aquinos, Imelda Marcos, 83, won her second consecutive term as congresswoman of Ilocos Norte province.

Her daughter Imee ran unopposed and was re-elected governor.

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