Post-poll surprise for Philippines

As much as the Philippines seems ready for “change”, giving Aquino the mandate it has, the country has brought power scions of political clans of old, back to power.

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    At around two o’clock on Tuesday morning, with 24-hour rolling news coverage on local networks going into its second day, a very pleased-looking Commission on Elections (Comelec) official was being interviewed live on television from the national vote tallying centre.  

    He could barely contain his excitement as he declared the first fully automated polls in the Philippines a success (much, it seemed, to his own surprise). 

    He had been up against the proverbial wall for weeks prior to the May 10th elections as machines failed when tested, contingency plans were ridiculed, and the credibility of the process itself was questioned.  

    He had been laughed at, scorned, and beseeched to put a stop to automated plans; but on behalf of the Comelec, he had said they would plough through - and the nation would be better for it.  

    Now even the previous nay-sayers are flabbergasted.  

    Despite all the seemingly insurmountable problems that faced an experiment in full automation, (allegations of computerised cheating, wide-spread violence as in previous polls, and inevitable delays due to unforeseen glitches), there were more people that came out to vote in these general elections than previous ones. 

    Of the 50.7 million registered voters in the Philippines, 75% turned out.  

    Technical problems on the day led to the vote being extended for an extra hour, and there was indeed violence in a few trouble-spots - but all in all, it worked out better than even the most optimistic had originally hoped.  

    The Comelec had cautiously advised that because of the delay during the vote, the results wouldn’t come in 36 hours as earlier announced.  

    And yet - they did.  

    Less than seven hours after polls had closed, clear winners were beginning to emerge from unofficial tallies.  

    By mid-morning of Tuesday, presidential contenders began conceding.  

    A move practically unheard of in previous voting exercises. The widely expected post-election “challenge” usually launched by those seen to be losing didn’t occur.  

    By Tuesday afternoon, save for a few stubborn candidates, it seemed the whole nation was ready to accept the resounding presidential victory of Benigno Aquino III (the third), known locally by his nickname – Noynoy.  

    Diplomatic circles, and representatives of a variety of sectors began congratulating Filipinos for a successful and triumphant election.

    Even the incumbent president said she was happy at the way things worked, indirectly showing that she would accept the results unquestioningly.   

    It seemed that without all the anticipated post-election drama, Noynoy Aquino - the son of the nation’s two democratic icons, would be the next president of the Philippines.  

    And many breathed a sigh of relief. He is expected to usher in a season of change... and hope for better days.  

    He promised to stamp out corruption, and find a solution to poverty.  

    It is of course too early to tell if he will succeed, but his overwhelming victory - and the mere fact that so many turned out to vote at all - are seen as an indication that Filipinos are ready to take on the challenge of finally living up to what they see as the “potential for greatness” manifested when the country gave the world People Power in 1986.  

    That "glorious time", as many Filipinos see it, when they took to the streets to oust the 20-year old Marcos dictatorship.  

    Back then, Noynoy’s mother was installed as president, and the country was seen as the region’s "great democratic hope".  

    In 1986, Filipinos fully expected to reclaim their place among the front-runners in Asia, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.  

    Nearly 25 years on, and the country found itself right back where it started.

    Mired in poverty, riddled with corruption, tormented by widespread human rights violations - and under the leadership of a rather unpopular president - who was constantly dogged by allegations of electoral fraud, and corruption.

    And now, well now it still isn’t so simple.  

    As much as the country might seem ready for “change” giving Noynoy Aquino the mandate it has, it has also re-elected back into power scions of political clans of old.

    Including members of the Marcos family, and relations of former president Joseph Estrada, who was himself kicked out of office due to allegations of corruption.  

    Estrada now has the title of being the most notable public official ever convicted of plunder, but he was pardoned, and took the opportunity to run for the presidency again.  

    Surprising many, despite that conviction, he remains popular with the masses and placed second to Aquino. Estrada is still contesting the vote.

    Gloria Arroyo won a seat in Congress to represent her home province, Imelda Marcos won one to represent her late husband’s.  

    Sports hero Manny Pacquiao looks set to put up his boxing gloves to become a legislator, and many members of the controversial Ampatuan clan, who are believed to be responsible for the worst case of political violence in the country, are also likely to return to public office.

    So where does the country find itself now? 

    As an historic week here draws to a close, there could very well be a new president proclaimed by the end of the month, but the much-criticised system of patronage politics and clan rivalries have also received another stamp of "approval".  

    One step forward, two steps back.  

    As is now being said here - "surprise!"


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