Mr. Aquino enjoys a reputation for probity – inherited from his late mother and popular former president – though he has little track record to indicate how he might manage in the top office, long associated with corruption and inefficiency.
With results from about 85 percent of the polling precincts, Aquino had 13,098,633 votes and his nearest rival, Joseph Estrada had 8,385,557, according to a private poll watchdog organization accredited by the official Commission on Elections. It is unlikely that all the votes still to be counted will go to Estrada.
Mr. Estrada has not conceded victory, though, unlike the other main candidates. It is up to Congress to proclaim the official winner, and it is not due to do so for some days.
Aquino: strong brand name
Mr. Aquino campaigned on an anticorruption platform, contrasting his reputation for honesty with that of the outgoing president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Arroyo’s administration has been plagued by corruption scandals.
Aquino’s reputation for honesty was his main asset during the campaigning, as he has no experience of executive government. He served nine years in the House of Representatives and three years in the Senate, but attracted little public attention as a legislator.
He was plucked from political obscurity by the death last year of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino. It was his mother who replaced the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, when he was ousted by the People Power Revolution of 1986.
She was widely admired among Filipinos for her probity. Her death provoked a national outpouring of grief and a public clamor for her son to run for president. Aquino led in the opinion polls from the start.
Aquino’s father, a senator, had led the opposition to Mr. Marcos. He was assassinated in 1983, and followers of the dictator were blamed.
An office tainted by graft
What has been publicly disclosed about Aquino’s policies is short on detail.
He has promised to have Arroyo investigated for graft, and spoken of judicial reforms to tackle corruption.
But, if confirmed as the winner, Aquino will also face problems that all recent Philippine presidents have faced: how to revitalize an economy that has consistently underperformed its neighbors, and how to tackle persistent and widespread poverty, communist and Muslim insurgencies, and homegrown terrorist groups linked to Al Qaeda.
To tackle these problems he will need the support of Congress. It will not be clear for some days whether Aquino’s Liberal Party and its allies will have majorities in both houses. Party-switching is the norm in Philippine politics, however, and politicians habitually align themselves with the main source of patronage, which is the president.
This, and the tradition that new presidents return the favors done by powerbrokers who help get them elected, is the main source of misgivings about Aquino.
“In all likelihood, this year’s elections will still result in the damaged politics we have managed to cultivate so jealously for decades,” says Alex Magno, a political scientist at the University of the Philippines. “Horses will continue to be traded. Political confrontation will still be poisoned. Party- and program-based politics will still be undeveloped.”
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