Clans rule 73 out of 80 provinces and with midterm elections on Monday, experts say dynasties are impeding progress.
Filipinos have voted to choose thousands of local leaders and national legislators in what was seen as a referendum on the presidency of reformist Benigno Aquino.
More than 52 million people were eligible to vote in Monday’s elections. Results are expected on Tuesday and Wednesday.Police and military were on heightened alert for poll-related violence that has claimed dozens of lives since campaigning began in February.
More than 18,000 positions were at stake, ranging from town and city mayors to provincial governors and members of the legislature in an exercise traditionally dominated by political dynasties .
Aquino won the presidency by a landslide in 2010 on a promise to crush corruption which he blames for widespread poverty in the nation of 100 million.
He consistently scored high popularity ratings for nursing the Philippines back to fiscal health and prosecuting erring officials, including predecessor Gloria Arroyo, now in detention while being tried for alleged massive corruption.
Aquino is also close to signing a final peace deal with the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), potentially ending a rebellion in the south that has killed more than 150,000 since the 1970s.
The aim is to get both houses of parliament – the Senate and the House of Representatives – to pass a law creating a new autonomous region to be governed by the MILF in the south.
All the seats in the lower house and half in the Senate are being contested in Monday’s elections.
Reports said one army member was killed on Monday and one injured in the island of Negros following an encounter between the military and communist rebels, according to military spokesman Franciso Patrimonio.
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Two more people were reported dead and seven injured in an ambush in Sulu Province in Southern Philippines, according to a local TV station ABS-CBN.
An improvised explosive device was found in the district of Sharif Aguak, in the province of Maguindanao, where a campaign-related massacre took place in 2009 and 34 journalists died.
Al Jazeera’s Marga Ortigas, reporting from Manila, said that more than 30 people have been reported killed in the run-up to the elections.
“But security forces are pointing out that this is a much smaller number than they have seen in previous elections,” she said.
“In fact, the reported incidents of violence in the run-up to these particular elections compared to the previous ones have been a sign, some say, that the reforms Aquino has been instituting during his three years in power are so far working.”
In 2009, 58 people, including 32 journalists, were massacred in the country’s worst political violence that was blamed on rivalry between two powerful clans in southern Maguindanao province.
Sixto Brillantes, head of the Philippines’ election agency, reported that at least 200 polling stations reported malfunctioning ballot counting machines.
He also said that voting was cancelled in one precinct in the northern Philippine city of Baguio, and one in Compostela Valley in southern Philippines, after election workers failed to deliver the ballots.
He said that special voting, at a later date, would only be ordered if “it will adversely affect the final result”.
An election watchdog also reported power outages in some areas.
Other problems, including politicians who jostle for power by bribing, intimidating or launching attacks against opponents, are expected to have marred the vote.
Ana Maria Tabunda from the independent pollster Pulse Asia said such dynasties restrict democracy, but added that past surveys by her organisation had shown that most Filipinos were less concerned about the issue than with the benefits and patronage they could receive from particular candidates.
Voters often pick candidates with the most familiar surnames instead of those with the best records, she said.
“It’s name recall, like a brand. They go by that,” she said.
Vote-buying has also been a problem.
The Commission on Elections ordered a ban on bank withdrawals of more than 100,000 pesos ($2,440) and the transportation of more than 500,000 pesos ($12,200) from Wednesday through to Monday to curb vote-buying, but the Supreme Court stopped the move.