Aquino leads the pack in Philippines

MANILA,
Philippines -The son of Philippine democracy
icons took an early, commanding lead in presidential polls on a promise to
begin prosecuting corrupt officials within weeks to restore credibility to the
country’s graft-ridden government agencies.

Despite computerised counting
machine glitches and violence that claimed at least nine lives, election
officials hailed the vote as a success in a country where poll fraud
allegations have marred previous contests.

Sen. Benigno Aquino III – whose
father was assassinated while opposing a dictatorship and whose mother led the
“people power” revolt that restored freedoms – was leading the
nine-candidate presidential race with 40.58 per cent of the votes from about 57
per cent of the precincts, while his closest rival, ousted President Joseph
Estrada, had 25.72 per cent.

There is no runoff in the
Philippines and whoever has the most votes is declared winner.

Aquino’s sudden political rise
bolstered hopes among his supporters for a clean leadership after nine years of
a scandal-tainted administration that was rocked by coup attempts and protests.

He campaigned on a strong
anti-graft platform, promised to start prosecuting corrupt officials within
weeks of his election and restore integrity to Congress and the judiciary.

It was only after former President
Corazon Aquino died of cancer last August that her son, a quiet 50-year-old
lawmaker and bachelor, decided to run, spurred by the massive outpouring of
national grief for the leader who ousted long-time dictator Ferdinand Marcos in
the 1986 “people power” revolt and restored democracy to the
Philippines.

Some of Aquino’s opponents carried
the taint of scandal, all too common in the Philippines. The popularity ratings
of Sen. Manny Villar, a real estate developer-turned-politician who was
neck-and-neck with Aquino in early surveys, plunged after rivals accused him of
using his position to enrich himself and avoid a Senate ethics probe.

Estrada, who largely draws support
from the poor, jumped to overtake Villar as No. 2. The former action movie star
was removed from office in 2001 and subsequently convicted on corruption
charges. He was later pardoned by Arroyo, and said he decided to run again to
clear his name

Turnout was 75 per cent among about
50 million eligible voters, the Elections Commission said.

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