Sun, May 12, 2013 - Page 4 News List

Social reform efforts at stake in Philippine elections

AFP, MANILA

The Philippines is to hold elections tomorrow seen as crucial to popular Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s efforts to transform society, but with deadly violence, corruption and nepotism posing familiar threats.

More than 18,000 positions are set to be contested in the mid-term elections — from the town level up to the nation’s congress — and Aquino is banking on landslide wins for his allies to cement his reform agenda.

“The president needs to be able to have a strong coalition in both houses of Congress to be able to push through critical measures,” Budget Secretary and ruling Liberal Party politician Florencio Abad told reporters.

Since taking office in 2010 following a landslide election win, Aquino has maintained record high popularity ratings while overseeing strong economic growth and efforts to tackle corruption that have won international acclaim.

In the Philippines, presidents can only serve one term of six years, and Aquino has said he is determined to leave a permanent legacy that will ensure the Philippines is no longer the “sick man of Asia.”

One key plank is ending a decades-long Muslim rebellion in the south of the country that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives and stifled economic growth.

Aquino is close to signing a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main rebel group, but he will then need congress to endorse the pact.

All the seats in the lower house and half in the senate are being contested in the mid-term elections.

The Philippines has a plethora of parties, and politicians frequently shift allegiances, so controlling parliament is extremely difficult.

However, Aquino secured support for key reform initiatives in his first three years in office, and he is confident that big victories in both chambers tomorrow would ensure an even more productive second half of his term.

Abad said other initiatives that Aquino was eying over the next three years included expanding the tax base to pay for a better social safety net, and reform of the mining sector so that big firms pay higher taxes.

However, deep-rooted problems that have plagued the Philippines for decades are expected to again impact the election, and continue to haunt the political landscape long after Aquino has left office.

The Philippines is infamous for a brutal brand of democracy where politicians — particularly at the local and provincial levels — are willing to bribe, intimidate or kill to ensure they win.

More than 50 people have already been killed in election-related violence, including candidates and their aides. Philippine military and police will be on high alert tomorrow in a bid to stamp out any last-minute attacks.

Efforts by the election commission to curb violence and vote-buying turned into farce in the final days of campaigning, when the Philippine Supreme Court blocked the commission from enforcing controversial bans on selling alcohol and carrying large amounts of money.

Activists have warned that political dynasties which dominate politics in the Philippines, including the Aquino clan, are set to strengthen their choke-hold on the country.

The Philippines is ruled by remarkably few families — with roughly 70 percent of the members of the current congress belonging to a dynasty — and polls are showing the elite are set to become even more dominant.

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