With both American officials and foreign bankers watching closely, the Philippines moves into a second round of electoral battles between the Marcos regime and its political opposition.
The first round was Friday's referendum on constitutional changes. A low voter turnout reflected an ebb in the credibility of Ferdinand Marcos's administration. But what helped the opposition even more was that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) apparently bloated the figure on voter turnout.
This signaled that the mechanism for fair elections is not yet in place and could therefore strengthen opposition moves to boycott parliamentary elections in May.
Comelec claimed a 70 to 80 percent turnout at the polls, but random surveys by independent groups showed only a 30 to 40 percent participation. Opposition groups had called for a boycott of the referendum. But Filipinos were already indifferent to the referendum since they had expected the amendments to pass and because of widespread doubts over the independence of Comelec, which has a reputation for inaccurate results.
Apathy toward the political exercise stood in stark contrast with the massive turnouts for antigovernment rallies during the last months of 1983, following the brutal slaying of the popular opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. on Aug. 21.
An unofficial tally of referendum results indicated approval of the four amendments. The major amendment recreates the office of the vice-president as presidential successor, a post to be filled in the next presidential election scheduled for 1987. Another proposal would change the size of voting districts for parliamentary elections, a proposal that would give opposition parties fairer chances of competing with the enormous campaign machinery of Marcos's ruling New Society Movement in May elections. Two other proposals would revise land reform laws.
The referendum was seen as an embarrassing concession from Mr. Marcos, whose government is under suspicion for complicity in the Aquino assassination.
Conflict over Friday's vote continued as hundreds of antigovernment demonstrators tried to continue a 90-mile march from Aquino's home to Manila airport, where he was slain. Led by Aquino's brother, Agapito (Butz) Aquino, the protestors were stopped by government troops Sunday. Protest leaders vowed to to complete the march.