Rival candidates in the mostly Roman Catholic country planned to gather for a “unity” mass at a Manila cathedral on Sunday, praying for peaceful elections on Monday after a warnings about threats from Muslim rebels and plots to rig the polls.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is the clear favourite to win a fresh six-year term after extending her lead over actor Fernando Poe Jr in final opinion surveys, but Poe’s supporters were pinning hopes on a happy ending for the underdog.
“It’s like a movie. He’s beaten up at the beginning, but in the end he’s the one beating them up,” Poe aide Vicente Sotto told the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper.
The military says 92 people, including 29 candidates, have been killed in the campaign – more than the 87 in the 1998 election but still less than the nearly 150 killed in local polls in 1988.
Among the most pressing issues facing the Philippines is a budget deficit that eats up a third of government spending, helping to keep millions in dire poverty.
Entrenched corruption, a high crime rate and insurgencies by communist and Muslim guerrillas will also be high on peoples’ minds when they fill in their ballots.
Poe, who has relied on brooding silences for much of the three-month campaign, went on the attack in his last rally in Manila on Saturday, accusing Arroyo of being a “liar” and a “cheat” as rain drenched several thousand supporters.
Arroyo, a 57-year-old economist, has the chance to win a real mandate on Monday, after a slick campaign that has made the most of her incumbency while playing up her modest achievements.
A final poll by the independent Social Weather Stations, taken from 1-4 May, gave Arroyo 37% of the vote, up from 35.3% in the previous survey. Poe had 30%, from 30.8% before. About 12% of voters had yet to make up their minds.