Philippines' turbulent election season kicks off

Philippine boxer Manny Pacquiao (left) is one of the big names contesting next year's elections for President Benigno Aquino's successor.
Philippine boxer Manny Pacquiao (left) is one of the big names contesting next year's elections for President Benigno Aquino's successor.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines' election season kicked off Monday (Oct 12) with politicians registering for thousands of posts, launching a typically raucous and deadly seven months of campaigning in a famously chaotic democracy.

A successor to President Benigno Aquino will be chosen in the six-yearly polls, with the frontrunners a savvy politician fighting corruption charges, the adopted daughter of a movie star and a low-key stalwart of the ruling Liberal Party.

Mr Aquino, who has won international plaudits for tackling systemic corruption and his solid economic stewardship, is imploring voters to choose longtime ally Mar Roxas to continue his "straight path" style of governance.

"This is a campaign to continue the straight path, a campaign to make our hopes possible, a campaign that will continue the heroic story of the Filipino people," Mr Aquino said at a rally to announce the Liberal Party's Senate ticket.

But Mr Roxas has struggled in the polls and is facing strong challenges from Mr Jejomar Binay, the current vice-president who is being investigated for graft, and Ms Grace Poe, a political novice riding on her late father's legendary status in the cinema.

The start of a week-long registration process began on Monday for more than 18,000 positions up for grabs - from the presidency down to village captain level - in the May elections.

Mr Binay, a former Aquino ally who now heads the main opposition party, was the first of the major candidates to register at election headquarters in Manila on Monday morning.

The Philippines, a former US colony of 100 million, has long struggled to establish an efficient democracy, with the ghosts of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos's rule from 1965-1986 still haunting the country.

His son and namesake is running for the vice-presidency as an independent, insisting his father's rule was benign and that voters will largely be preoccupied with the nation's present problems rather than the past.

"There are corrupt Filipinos... within and outside the government who are killing our economy and keeping us poor," Mr Marcos, 58, said at a weekend rally alongside his controversial mother and former first lady Imelda.

"With your help, I will lead a revolution of the heart, of ideas and of action toward real and meaningful change."

Another big name contesting next year's elections is boxing hero Manny Pacquiao, who is expected to be able to capitalise on his fame to win a seat in the Senate.

Pacquiao, 36, is currently a member of the House of Representatives, and is widely seen as going for the higher-profile Senate post as a potential platform for an eventual presidential run.

Since emerging from the Marcos dictatorship, the Philippines has struggled to build a stable democracy, with politicians often resorting to violence to eliminate rivals or cheating to rig polls.

The most infamous case of violence occurred in 2009, when the warlord family of a southern province allegedly massacred 58 people in an effort to stop a rival from registering his candidacy for provincial governor.

Already ahead of next year's elections, a roadside bomb injured a local mayor and killed three of his bodyguards in the violence-wracked southern island of Basilan.

And despite the raucous campaigning, political analysts say that little has changed to dilute the power of elite clans who dominate national, provincial and local posts in what is known locally as "dynastic rule".

"Philippine politics has always been governed by the elite... I don't think the dynasties will change," Ateneo University political science professor Benito Lim told AFP.

Mr Roxas, for instance, is the grandson of a former president.

And while Mr Binay does not come from a political family, since rising to influence he has set up his own dynasty, with his wife and children becoming powerful politicians.