Aquino wallops the opposition

President Corazon Aquino came out of the May 11 elections for Congress with her popularity intact, her candidates in tow, and her opposition incensed. Her coalition appears to have won 23 of the 24 nationally elected Senate seats, and was doing well among 200 House races. Official tallies were not expected to be finished until late May.

Both United States and other foreign observers said the voting was relatively clean compared to the massive fraud committed under Ferdinand Marcos. But some losers led protests against the Elections Commission, claiming they were cheated. The government welcomed an investigation of the charges.

The chief opponent, Juan Ponce Enrile, seems to have barely lost his Senate bid. He warned the government that it faces ``unimaginable'' instability - a veiled threat that worried Aquino officials. Enrile was fired last November as defense minister amid rumors of a coup attempt. He ranked number one among the military vote. Only one of the 24 Senate candidates put up by his Grand Alliance for Democracy is likely to win.

An extreme victory for Aquino will virtually lock out the opposition, both left and right, from government. This could force them to find other, perhaps dangerous, avenues for their interests, observers said.

For the first time since independence in 1946, the left entered legal politics, putting up or endorsing a number of candidates. It lost badly, which may make the outlawed Communist Party reconsider its divided strategy of armed conflict and what it calls ``parliamentary struggle'' through legal fronts.

The overwhelming vote for Aquino's candidates indicates her popularity is still high. Her determination to return the country to a US-style democracy seems to have been appreciated by voters. Even in Marcos's stronghold in the north, Aquino candidates did better than expected.

Officials said at least 63 people had been killed in election-related violence.

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