Aquino set for big win. Foes demonstrate, say vote was rigged

Right-wing opponents of President Corazon Aquino, in a copycat reversal of last year's revolt against Ferdinand Marcos, took to the streets of Manila yesterday to protest the way Monday's elections were conducted. Early unofficial results show a near-shutout of the opposition in the Senate and a majority win for Aquino-backed candidates in the House.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Filipinos, led by former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, rallied outside the same military camps where last year Mr. Enrile sparked a military mutiny against Mr. Marcos. Enrile and other likely election losers accused Aquino officials of vote manipulation.

The rally was planned to include dissident soldiers. But Fidel Ramos, the armed forces chief of staff, warned military personnel early in the day that they would be violating the new Constitution if they engaged in ``partisan'' political activity.

During the day, several truckloads of soldiers could be seen riding around Manila with their rifles, waving the ``V'' sign at passers-by in solidarity with the protesters. The ``V'' sign was used by Marcos supporters last year, but has become an anti-Aquino gesture.

General Ramos, who helped Enrile oust Marcos last year but who now backs Mrs. Aquino, said that several retired generals had tried to recruit soldiers to join the Enrile rally.

Just before the rally began, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) began the official national count of ballots for 24 Senate and 200 House seats. Officials said it might take several days before reliable trends in the vote count will be known.

An unofficial ``quick count'' by the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), a citizens' election watchdog group, showed Aquino's coalition winning 23 of the 24 Senate seats, with Enrile about 200,000 votes shy of being included in the nationally elected body.

Enrile, who faces possible political oblivion if he loses in the final count, said he plans to build up pressure on the government. ``We are bringing the issue [of voting fraud] to the people,'' he said in an interview. ``It's impossible for almost all her candidates to win.''

Ramos said 29 ballot boxes had been stolen, compared with more than 100 in the 1984 legislative elections. And poll-related killings were about half of those in 1984, he said.

Comelec officials admit there were some administrative failures in the election, but said they could know of no fraud unless candidates filed complaints. Enrile's coalition, the Grand Alliance for Democracy (GAD), has refused to file complaints, preferring to take to the streets.

A few foreign diplomats, who say they saw no election cheating, conjecture GAD leaders had planned the protest in advance of the voting, knowing they would lose. They note that GAD held a press conference Tuesday when Namfrel had only counted a small percent of the votes.

GAD officials said they hoped their protests would tarnish Aquino's image as the restorer of democracy and paint their coalition as an underdog. Some Aquino officials say the official count may yet show Enrile has won a Senate seat.

But Enrile promised not to take a seat if he won it. The one GAD candidate who was winning, movie star Joseph Estrada, also pledged to reject his seat.

On Tuesday, Enrile warned that the charges of voting fraud would bring the country ``unimaginable'' instability, a statement that reminded many Filipinos of his veiled threats last year against Aquino. He was fired in November amid rumors of a coup attempt.

The possibility of Enrile sparking a military reaction to the election appeared remote, Ramos said. Nonetheless, voting patterns among the military indicate far more support for GAD candidates than voting trends nationwide.

The military has a big stake in the new Congress: A congressional panel can approve or disapprove any officer's promotion above the rank of colonel.

Early signs of an overwhelming Aquino victory in the Senate surprised many Filipinos. But more voters than expected followed Aquino's campaign advice to vote for all her candidates. And a threat by Mr. Marcos that he would return scared many voters, Aquino officials say, causing voters to support her candidates.

The House races may not go as well for Aquino as the Senate. They involve more local politics, and Aquino's popularity may have had less effect. But she needs at least 150 of her supporters in the Congress to avoid any trouble that might be caused by an impeachment provision in the new Constitution.

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