Presidential frontrunner Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino was poised for a decisive victory in Monday's elections in the Philippines despite technical problems that caused long delays but did not derail the polls as feared.
Unofficial tallies of 57 percent of votes cast showed Aquino well in front with 40.6 percent, ahead of former President Joseph Estrada in second place with 25.7 percent, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said.
That was in line with opinion polls last week which gave Aquino a commanding 20-point lead.
Problems with new ballot machines forced many Filipinos to wait for hours to vote -- including Aquino himself who faced a four-hour delay.
"It lacked prior testing so there were a lot of problems," he said after finally casting his ballot.
But while some eventually gave up without voting, Comelec put turnout at 75 percent -- 10 points lower than forecast but still easily high enough to dispel concerns the polls to elect a successor to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would lack credibility.
A broadly successful ballot -- despite technical problems, shootings and bombings in some remote areas and allegations of vote buying -- would be a relief for domestic financial markets that had feared a failed vote above all other outcomes.
That, along with a bounce in global markets on the rescue package for the Euro zone, was likely to lower the risk premium priced into Philippine assets when local markets reopen on Tuesday, with attention turning to Aquino's policy agenda and in particular how he plans to get the fiscal deficit under control.
Polling-day bomb and grenade attacks and shootings killed at least nine people with 12 wounded, the military said.
But in a country long used to widespread election-related violence and intimidation, particularly on the southern island of Mindanao where pro-freedom Muslims and Communist insurgencies have festered for years, Monday's casualty toll was seen as remarkably low.
Much of the violence was in Maguindanao province on Mindanao, where 57 people were killed in an election-related massacre last November, and on Basilan island.
Philippine police chief Director-General Jesus Verzosa said in a statement that the elections "will go down in our nation's history as probably the most peaceful and orderly political exercise ever held in our land".
Voting system passes test --just
The use of a new and untested automated voting system, designed to make electoral fraud more difficult, posed a major risk for the polls. Concerns rose last week following the recall of more than 76,000 memory chips after a fault was found.
With temperatures climbing above 36 degrees Celsius (97 Fahrenheit) in crowded polling stations, officials nervously fanned some ballot machines to try to prevent them overheating.
Long queues formed outside many polling stations, and the confusion prompted election commission Comelec to extend voting by an hour. Problems were also reported with some voter lists. But overall, the election was smoother than expected.
Political and security analyst Ian Bryson of Control Risks said that while the elections had avoided major problems, there was still some risk of unrest in coming days.
"Disaffection with the voting process remains the most likely trigger for social unrest in the days ahead," he said.
Comelec said if a machine malfunctioned and there was no back-up, people could still complete their voting paper, which would be stored and scanned later by staff at election booths.
"It's not as widespread as it's made to appear by some people and what's important is that these are being replaced," Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said of the faulty machines.
Tackling corruption and reducing poverty were key themes of the election campaign, but candidates were vague on details.
Among the challenges for the new president will be trying to reinvigorate an economy that has fallen behind its Southeast Asian peers, both in terms of growth potential and as an investment destination. Markets also want to see the next president quickly tackle the country's parlous fiscal position.
"I voted for Noynoy," said Liza Pascual, a 45-year-old clerk who queued through the morning to vote in Manila. "Let's see if he can really fulfil his promise to bring change to the Philippines, we are relying on his promises."
ReutersLast Mod: 11 Mayıs 2010, 08:25