Philippines Senator Benigno Aquino and his pro-reform agenda looked set for a decisive victory on Tuesday as votes from a national poll, the nation's first automated election, were being counted.
REUTERS - Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino was cruising to victory as counting continued in the Philippines presidential election on Tuesday, leaving him to prove he has the strength to push his reform agenda, fight corruption and cut a large budget deficit.
The country's first automated election ran far better than many had expected -- particularly after a technical problem last week -- and the quick and clear result allowed investors to bypass fears of prolonged political instability.
Local markets opened stronger on their return from a holiday, with the peso and stocks rising sharply on Aquino's strong lead, adding to the boost from the Euro zone rescue package that has lifted global markets and investor sentiment.
"A strong mandate will bring policy continuity which is what people want to see. The last thing they want to see is always uncertainty as we've seen in Britain," said Song Seng Wun, regional economist at CIMB Research in Singapore.
"The popular support hopefully will translate into confidence in the economy."
The Commission on Elections said that as of 6:15 a.m. (2215 GMT Monday), Aquino had 40.2 percent of votes with 78.55 percent counted. Former president Joseph Estrada was in second place with 25.5 percent of votes.
Aquino had 12.3 million votes to Estrada's 7.8 million, with 30.4 million votes counted. Comelec has said there was turnout of about 75 percent of 50.7 million registered voters, which meant around 7.6 million votes were still to be counted.
Senator Manuel Villar, in third place, conceded on Tuesday and congratulated Aquino on his victory.
There are questions as to whether Aquino, who has had a lacklustre career as a lawmaker, has the ability to deliver on his reform and anti-corruption promises, and also tame a budget deficit that analysts expect to exceed 300 billion pesos this year.
"Tackling the deficit would be the number one priority for the next government," said Paul Joseph Garcia, chief investment officer of ING Investment Management Philippines.
"We're not in a Greece-type level of fiscal crisis, but definitely the fiscal deficit is a priority for the next administration. They may have to increase taxes, that will of course need a lot of political will."
The source of Aquino's popularity was largely his parents' legacy, rather than his own achievements, with his anti-corruption platform benefitting from the goodwill generated by the family name and its reputation for propriety.
His father Benigno was an opposition leader assassinated in 1983 during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos, and his mother Cory took up the mantle and won office during the People Power revolution that drove Marcos from power. Her death last August powered an emotion-driven push for Noynoy to run.
"Aquino will have to prove that his short political resume will not prevent him from effective policymaking, as he tries to manage the inevitable competing interests," Roberto Herrera-Lim, Asia director for the Eurasia Group, said in a report.
Among those competing interests will be the family of the late dictator -- Marcos's widow Imelda won a seat in Congress, daughter Imee won a local governor's position, and son Ferdinand Jr was on track to be elected one of 12 senators -- and outgoing president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Arroyo, who was ineligible to run for president again, won a seat in Congress in the election. Analysts and opponents think she wants to become Speaker of the House, from where she could push for the introduction of a parliamentary system to create the role of prime minister and reduce the power of the president.
While unpopular with the electorate, she has a strong political base that helped keep her in power for nearly a decade despite accusations of electoral fraud, corruption and rights abuses -- which Aquino has said his government will investigate.
Date created : 2010-05-10