Ramos claims election victories victory

President Fidel Ramos claimed victory yesterday after national elections in the Philippines which are expected to give him substantial majorities in both houses of the legislature.

Mr Ramos, who was elected in 1992 with less than a quarter of the vote, said he had won a "fresh mandate" for his administration and its economic reforms. Although the country's cumbersome voting system means final results are likely to take weeks, early projections showed the President's supporters leading in 10 of the 12 Senate seats being contested. The race for the Senate, whose members are elected nationally, was seen in particular as a referendum on his programme.

If all the results go his way, Mr Ramos could have as many as 21 votes out of 24 in the Senate, which has considerable power to facilitate or obstruct his plans. The President said he expected his coalition to win 156 of the 204 lower-house seats being contested and 56 of the 76 races for provincial governorships.

Mr Ramos's triumph was overshadowed to some extent by more than 80 deaths in election clashes. In the southern island of Jolo, fighting broke out on Monday between troops and armed followers of a local Muslim warlord, claiming 11 lives. By the standards of Philippines elections, however, the violence was no worse than normal.

It was too early to determine whether Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, son of the late dictator, would win a Senate seat, but voters appeared to have rejected others associated with the Marcos regime or implicated in coup attempts against Corazon Aquino, who succeeded Marcos.

The Philippines has traditionally lagged behind other members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), the fastest-growing region in the world. Since taking over three years ago from the well-intentioned but chaotic Aquino administration, however, Mr Ramos has boosted foreign investment and economic growth, which more than doubled last year to 4.3 per cent. Inflation is running at about 6 per cent, compared with 9 per cent last year, and the government has ended the chronic power shortages. Shares jumped nearly 3 per cent in Manila yesterday on the election news.

If Mr Ramos is to achieve his aim of catching up with the rest of Asean during the second half of his term, which ends in 1998, he will need every vote he can get in the legislature to reform the notoriously corrupt public administration and the tax system. Spending on development has been hamstrung by the inability to collect taxes.

The voting trends appear to show that the President has escaped blame in the furore which followed the execution in Singapore of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipina maid, which forced two ministers to quit. The country was also shaken by a confrontation with China over the Spratly Islands and the appearance in the south of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim militant group which killed more than 200 people in an attack on a small town on Mindanao island.

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