Aquino set to win Philippine poll and carry on family dynasty

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The Independent Online

Benigno Aquino queued for five hours in the tropical heat to cast his vote in his home town north of Manila yesterday. But despite computer problems at some polling stations and a wave of election-day violence, the scion of the family closely associated with democracy in the Philippines was heading for victory in the presidential election.

Unofficial early tallies of 57 per cent of votes cast, gave Mr Aquino a convincing lead, with 40.1 per cent, compared with the 25.8 per cent of his closest rival, Joseph Estrada, a former action movie star and ex-president. Manuel Villar, a millionaire property tycoon, was on 14 per cent.

About three-quarters of the nation's 50 million registered voters cast their ballots in elections for every layer of government down to municipal councils. But as ever in the Philippines, where guns and private armies are rife, the polls were marred by shootings and bombings. At least nine people died, including a congressional candidate's two bodyguards, in clashes with police in Bacoor, south of Manila.

On strife-torn Mindanao island, voters fled a polling station in a school following two blasts believed to have been caused by grenades.

In southern Maguindanao province, two men died in a gun battle between armed followers of rival vice-mayoral candidates. Last year, Maguindanao was the scene of the country's worst election-related attack, when 57 people, including 30 journalists, were killed.

Election officials had been nervous about computerised vote-counting machines being used in the Philippines for the first time. A software problem discovered last week nearly derailed the election but was fixed. However, some machines still malfunctioned, including one in Mr Aquino's home town of Tarlac. Long queues formed and some voters went home.

"Noynoy" Aquino was a young man when his father, Benigno, an opposition senator spearheading the struggle for democracy in the Philippines, was assassinated by the military. In 1986 his mother, Corazon, was swept into the presidency by a "people's power" revolt which ended the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Now Mr Aquino, 50, is preparing to replace Gloria Arroyo in the Malacanang presidential palace.

Mrs Arroyo, who was barred from standing as president again but was contesting a seat in the House of Representatives, has been implicated in a string of corruption scandals that led to several attempted coups and moves to impeach her.

During the campaign, Mr Aquino promised, if elected, to set up a special commission to investigate the alleged abuses committed during her nine-year regime. His reputation as a clean pair of hands, along with his family connections, has helped propel him to victory. "I voted for Noynoy," said Liza Pascual, 45, a clerk who queued all morning in the capital, Manila. "Let's see if he can really fulfil his promise to bring change to the Philippines. We are relying on his promises."

The election commissioner, Gregorio Larazzabel, called the elections "a celebration of democracy". The military attributed a lower death count than at previous polls to the automated voting system. In the past, Filipinos sometimes had to wait weeks for a result.