Long-awaited results of a marathon vote count gave Gloria Macapagal Arroyo a fresh term as Philippine president yesterday, but opposition allegations of cheating and planned protests threatened to undermine her rule.
More than five weeks after Filipinos voted in May 10 elections, the final tally by Congress showed Arroyo with 12,905,808 votes, beating her closest rival, film star Fernando Poe, by just over one million.
"It's enough to govern," said Franklin Drilon, Senate majority leader and an Arroyo supporter.
The move paves the way for US-trained economist Arroyo to be declared president later this week, after Congress debates and votes on the tally.
Her lawmakers have a majority and can approve the count over any opposition objections. Sunday newspapers quoted Arroyo, a US-trained economist, as saying she was going ahead with plans to hold her inauguration ceremony before a June 30 deadline. But opposition politicians said she would be a bogus president unless their doubts over the vote were addressed.
"President Arroyo's allies can now run their express train faster to railroad the canvass and proclamation, but it will be a bogus proclamation," opposition senator Edgardo Angara told the Philippine Star newspaper.
Opposition lawmakers had demanded that election returns be re-opened to examine what they say are discrepancies in the results. Administration members refused, saying the counting must be completed by June 30, when Arroyo's current term ends, to avoid a constitutional crisis.
Filipinos were exasperated by the drawn-out count, which added to investor unease over the economy, but many believe the the opposition had a right to demand closer scrutiny.
"In 2001, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became president without the benefit of a popular mandate," political commentator Randy David wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
"In 2004, her claim to the presidency is even more dubious; it totters on the edge of unopened electoral returns."
Arroyo assumed the presidency on the back of huge anti-graft protests that toppled Joseph Estrada, another film star and a close friend of Poe.
But hopes that her presidency would signal a new era of economic and political stability were quickly dampened. She faced constant opposition sniping and only scored piecemeal success in her efforts to stamp out entrenched corruption and poverty in the mostly Roman Catholic nation of 82 million.
Investors and business leaders had hoped the May election would give Arroyo her first real mandate and a further six years in which she would push through reforms more forcefully.
The peso swooned to near its all-time low of 56.45 to the dollar last week and Manila stocks have been subdued for weeks by the political uncertainty, fuelled by rumors that the opposition is planning protests and coup attempts.
But the military, which has spawned nine coup attempts in the past 18 years, appears to be calm, and there are few signs of the popular fury that toppled Estrada in 2001 and dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.