Aquino leading in early presidential race results
() - May 10, 2010 - 10:22pm

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The son of Philippine democracy icons took the lead in the vote count for the presidency after the country's first automated elections Monday, which were marred by technical glitches and violence that claimed at least nine lives.

Sen. Benigno Aquino III had 40.4 percent of the vote from about 38 percent of the precincts, while his closest rival, ousted President Joseph Estrada, had 25.8 percent, according to early results released by the Commission on Elections.

The sudden political rise of Aquino — whose father was assassinated while opposing a dictatorship and whose late mother led the "people power" revolt that restored freedoms — bolstered hopes among his supporters for a clean leadership after nine years of a scandal-tainted administration that was rocked by coup attempts and protests.

Aquino campaigned on a strong anti-graft platform and promised to start prosecuting corrupt officials within weeks of his election.

Turnout was 75 percent among about 50 million registered voters, elect politicians for posts from the presidency to municipal councils, the poll body said. There is no runoff in the Philippines and whoever has the most votes is declared winner.

In a country where celebrities commonly seek office, the jewel-studded former first lady Imelda Marcos also ran for a House seat, as did boxing star Manny Pacquiao in his second congressional bid.

Like many others, Aquino was unable to immediately cast his ballot because a vote-counting machine broke down in his precinct. The election commission extended voting for another hour to make up for delays.

It was only after Corazon Aquino died of cancer last August that her son, a quiet 50-year-old lawmaker and bachelor, decided to run, spurred by the massive outpouring of national grief for the leader who succeeded longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and restored democracy to the Philippines.

Some of Aquino's opponents carry the taint of scandal, all too common in the Philippines. The ratings of real estate tycoon Sen. Manny Villar, who was neck-and-neck with Aquino in early surveys, took a plunge after rivals accused him of using his position to enrich himself and avoid a Senate ethics probe.

Meanwhile, Estrada, who largely draws support from the poor, overtook Villar as No. 2. The former action movie star was removed from office in 2001 and subsequently convicted on corruption charges. He was later pardoned by his nemesis, outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Computer problems and campaign-related violence, which has killed more than 30 people in the past three months, were the main concerns in elections that officials hope will set a new standard for the Philippines' fragile democracy.

For the first time, optical scanning machines counted votes in 76,000 precincts. A software glitch discovered a week ago nearly derailed the vote, but was fixed at the last minute. Still, some machines malfunctioned in the tropical humidity, including in Aquino's hometown of Tarlac, north of Manila.

"This is a new system of voting. We have a longer ballot, so I hope all the people can vote and not be delayed and I hope there will be no long lines of people outside when the voting ends," Aquino told reporters. He and others filled out their ballots nearly five hours later but they will have to be counted by hand unless the machine is replaced.

Election officials remained upbeat.

"We're smiling again. The people came in droves, the turnout was very encouraging. The machines worked more than we expected," said Elections Commission Chairman Jose Melo. "I would say it was successful."

In the past, manual counts in the world's second-biggest archipelago delayed results for weeks and were prone to fraud. Early tallies were expected just hours after polls closed during this election.

Election Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said about 300 out of 76,000 machines had problems but that most already were replaced, adding the problems were "not as widespread as it's made to appear."

A restive and politicized military, weak central government, private armies and political dynasties have stymied democratic institutions in the Philippines for generations. Elections often are marred by violence, and the latest vote was no different.

At least nine people were killed Monday in election violence, the military said.

Among those killed were a marine and a civilian acting as a congressional candidate's bodyguards who died in a clash outside a police station in Bacoor township in Cavite province, south of Manila.

Troops and gunmen exchanged fire in southern Maguindanao province, where 57 people were massacred in the country's worst election-related attack last year, said army Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer. Two civilians also were killed in fighting between armed followers of rival candidates for vice mayor, Ferrer said.

About 130 deaths preceded the last vote in 2007.

The country's next leader will have no easy task. He will face multiple insurgencies. Muslim rebels and al-Qaida-linked militants have long staged terrorist attacks and hostage raids from jungle hide-outs in the south, where US troops have been training Filipino soldiers.

The next leader also faces entrenched corruption. Arroyo has been accused of vote-rigging in 2004 and implicated in several scandals that led to coup attempts and moves to impeach her. Calls for her prosecution have been an important campaign issue. She denies any wrongdoing and is in running for a seat in the House of Representatives.

Aquino rode on a family name that has revived poignant memories of the 1986 "people power" revolt his late mother led to oust Marcos and restore democracy.

Former President Corazon Aquino had inherited the mantle of her husband, an opposition senator gunned down by soldiers at Manila's airport in 1983 upon return from U.S. exile to challenge Marcos.

In an AP interview last week, Aquino said he would start prosecuting corrupt officials within weeks if he's elected, sending a signal to investors and the public. He said he would create a commission to investigate Mrs. Arroyo.

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