The Philippines is preparing to hold mid-term elections seen as crucial to President Benigno Aquino’s efforts to transform society, but deadly violence, corruption and nepotism has so far overshadowed campaigning.
On Monday, more than 18,000 positions will be contested in the race – from the town level up to the nation’s Congress – and Aquino is banking on landslide wins for his allies to cement his reform agenda.
“The president needs to be able to have a strong coalition in both houses of Congress to be able to push through critical measures,” Budget Secretary and ruling Liberal Party powerbroker Florencio Abad told the AFP news agency.
More than 50 people have already been killed in election-related violence, including candidates and their aides, and the military and police will be on high alert to stamp out any last-minute attacks.
On Sunday, police and the military said that five people were killed in separate ambushes in the country’s south, and a radio reporter was kidnapped by armed men.
Two men armed with short firearms abducted radio journalist Melinda Jennifer Glifonea at dawn on Sunday at a restaurant in Candelaria, a farming town three hours south of Manila.
“We are not discounting the possibility it could be related to her work,” local police spokesman Chief Inspector Edcille Canals said.
He said Glifonea was known to carry stinging political commentary on her show at the local 103.1 FM Edgeradio but did not elaborate.
‘Sick man of Asia’
Since taking office in 2010 following a landslide election win, Aquino has maintained record high popularity ratings while overseeing strong economic growth and efforts to tackle corruption that have won international acclaim.
The president needs to be able to have a strong coalition in both houses of Congress to be able to push through critical measures
In the Philippines, presidents can only serve one term of six years, and Aquino has said he is determined to leave a permanent legacy that will ensure the Philippines is no longer the “sick man of Asia”.
One key plank is ending a decades-long Muslim rebellion in the south of the country that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives and stifled economic growth.
Abad said other initiatives that Aquino was eyeing over the next three years included expanding the tax base to pay for a better social safety net, and reform of the mining sector so that big firms pay higher taxes.
A host of colourful names are contesting the elections, including boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, who is seeking a second term as a member of the lower house.
His wife, Jinkee, is running to become vice governor of a southern province despite having no political experience, while one of his brothers is also running for Congress.
Imelda Marcos, wife of the late former president Ferdinand, is almost certain to win a second term in the lower house at the age of 83, representing a northern province where her family enjoys dynastic rule.
Her daughter is running unopposed for provincial governor.
Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada is running for Mayor in Manila.