The son of late Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos wrapped up his presidential election campaign on Saturday with a raucous rally of hundreds of thousands of supporters, as polls show him heading towards a landslide election win.
Victory in Monday’s election would cap a decades-long effort to rehabilitate the Marcos legacy after the patriarch was deposed and the disgraced family was chased into exile in the US.
The prospect of Ferdinand Marcos Jr moving back into the presidential palace in Manila has alarmed rights activists, church leaders and political analysts who fear Marcos Jr could rule “without constraint”.
Hundreds of thousands of red-clad Marcos supporters gathered on a dusty wasteland overlooked by a gleaming luxury casino resort on Saturday – a stark reminder of the country’s vast income gap. Wielding national flags, they gathered before a stage featuring an enormous screen of the smiling candidate as Filipino reggae, hip-hop and pop played at deafening levels.
“We will win as long as you stay awake on Monday so there won’t be another tragedy,” Marcos told the crowd, referring to his claims that he was cheated of victory in the 2016 vice presidential race.
The remarkable return of the Marcos family from pariahs to the peak of political power in the Philippines has been fuelled by public anger about corruption and poverty that persisted under governments that followed his father’s dictatorship.
Marcos Jr has run a tightly controlled campaign, skipping televised debates with rivals and largely shunning media interviews to avoid own goals before election day.
An enormous and well-funded social media misinformation campaign targeting a mostly young electorate with no memory of his father’s violent dictatorship and corrupt rule has also sought to rewrite the family’s history.
‘Six years of hell’
Human rights defenders and many Catholic priests have pushed publicly to stop Marcos Jr returning to the seat of power in Malacanang Palace, where he grew up.
“It will be another six years of hell,” warned political satirist and activist Mae Paner, 58, who was part of a popular uprising that ended the previous Marcos regime.
Ten candidates are vying to succeed current President Rodrigo Duterte in the landmark elections seen by many as a make-or-break moment for Philippine democracy.
Polls have indicated Marcos Jr will win more than half the votes, which would make him the first presidential candidate to secure an absolute majority since his father was deposed by a “people power” movement in 1986.
Analysts have warned that such an outcome would lead to weaker democratic checks and balances, more corruption and a fresh attempt to overhaul the 1987 constitution – which could include scrapping the one-term limit for presidents.
Previous administrations, including Duterte’s, have tried to amend the constitution, but they lacked sufficient support in Congress to push through changes.
The latest poll by Pulse Asia Research showed Marcos Jr on 56 percent – 33 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival Leni Robredo, who narrowly beat him in the 2016 vice-presidential race.
Such a winning margin would give Marcos Jr the power to “govern the way Duterte wanted to”, one longtime observer of Philippine politics told AFP.
“That is, without constraint,” he said.
Robredo’s recent poll bump has raised hopes among progressive supporters that their volunteer-driven campaign could yet deliver an upset.
But pollster Ana Maria Tabunda of Pulse Asia Research gave Robredo little hope.
“Our error margin is only plus or minus two percentage points – given the large gap, it’s not going to be affecting the results,” Tabunda said.