by Arnel Paciano Casanova
PAMPANGA PROVINCE, Philippines, May 10, 2010 -- Filipino voters cast their ballots to elect a new president amid widespread violence and voting machine glitches, which caused massive delays at polling stations nationwide. This is the country's first automated election.
Initial observations show many automated machines failed and voters waited in long lines of up to six hours in the hot sun to exercise their right to democracy. At least nine people were killed in election-related violence, according to the Associated Press, with many problems, in particular, in the southern province of Mindanao.
Everyone is anxious to see final election results, in a closely watched race that could be a turning point in Philippines' political history.
Early election returns show presidential candidate Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III of the Liberal Party leading in the polls among the nine candidates. The son of former President Corazon Aquino, who led the "people power" revolt, was unknown for most of his political life until his mother's death last August catapulted him to national consciousness.
Running on a platform for honest government and against corruption, Filipinos are looking for transparency after the corruption scandals plaguing outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Last week, Aquino raised the possibility of another "people power"
movement in case of massive fraud or delay in the elections.
However, it should be noted Aquino, himself, has been criticized for upholding family real estate interests and failing to implement agrarian reforms in their land estate, Hacienda Luisita.
Also on the ticket is Manuel Villar, Jr. of the Nationalista Party. One of the richest people in the Philippines, Villar made billions in real estate and is credited with leading impeachment proceedings against former President Estrada based on corruption charges. Estrada's government was eventually toppled due to public outrage and the eventual withdrawal of support by the armed forces in 2001.
Former President Joseph Estrada, also in the running, was eventually pardoned by President Arroyo. Estrada seeks vindication of his fall from power by seeking the presidency again. A former movie star, his populist platform is popular among poorer voters.
Gilberto Teodoro, a Harvard graduate and former Secretary of Defense, is the anointed candidate by the Arroyo administration although in the past weeks, massive defections from the Lakas-Kampi coalition, the administration party, caused the weakening of the his once-vaunted candidacy.
After reeling from two administrations that have eroded the public trust, Filipinos are now counting on the election to provide a leader that will deliver on promises of honest government, peace and economic development. We all hope that despite the trouble and the fears, democracy will prevail in this part of the world.
Arnel Paciano Casanova is the Executive Director, Asia Society Philippines.