Arroyo's shadow over Philippines election
Voting began Monday for the Philippines election. Though President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is not seeking reelection, her legacy has figured prominently in the campaign.
After a mudslinging presidential campaign, some 50 million Filipinos are heading to the polls Monday to choose from a field dominated by the son of a beloved former president and a wealthy real estate developer.Skip to next paragraph
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President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who took office in 2001, isn’t eligible to run. But her legacy and her influence have loomed over the contest. While her own party’s candidate has kept his distance from her, the front-runners have accused one another of being in her pocket, a slur that is considered a major turnoff for voters, such is the president’s unpopularity.
Lame-duck presidents are often a liability, as during the 2008 US presidential campaign in which John McCain steered clear of outgoing President Bush. But Arroyo’s negative drag is amplified by deep suspicion of her political ambitions after she steps down as president in June.
In an unusual move, Arroyo is running for Congress in her home district in central Luzon. She seems determined to stay on the political stage. Should it win enough seats, her party says it would propose Arroyo as House speaker, setting up a potential rivalry with the next president.
Avoiding the incumbent
Leading the pack is Sen. Benigno Aquino, son of former President Corazon Aquino. Since February, he has pulled ahead of second-placed opponent Sen. Manuel Villar, a real estate tycoon. Mr. Villar has been dogged by speculation that Arroyo is secretly backing him and not her party’s struggling candidate, Gilberto Teodoro. Commentators call the alleged joint candidacy "Villaroyo," combining the two surnames.
Villar has denied any dealings with Arroyo. His side has shot back with a similar allegation against Mr. Aquino, using the coinage "Gloriaquino," and identifying several members of Aquino’s family who serve in Arroyo’s administration. Villar has argued that he doesn’t need help from Arroyo as he has plenty of his own money for campaigning.
But analysts say the "Villaroyo" tag has stuck, in part because pro-Aquino media has pushed it hard. There has also been a stampede of ruling-party defections to Villar, as well as reports that the party isn’t investing heavily on its presidential hopeful, suggesting that resources and orders are going elsewhere.
Alberto Lim, executive director of the Makati Business Club, a lobby group that favors Aquino, says the outgoing president isn’t leaving anything to chance. “[Arroyo] has several irons in the fire. She’s not just betting on one house. That’s why Villaroyo is not so far-fetched,” he says.