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Philippines votes in presidential election as Marcos family eyes return to power

People wait for their turn to vote at a voting precinct in Culiat Elementary School in Manila on May 13, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Millions of people in the Philippines are heading to polling stations to choose a new president in an election that pits the son of the country’s former dictator against a liberal human rights lawyer.

Voting lines opened across the Southeast Asian nation at 22:00GMT on Sunday with a record-breaking 67 million people expected to cast their ballots.

Opinion polls suggest that Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the Philippines’ late dictator, is poised to win against current vice president Leni Robredo in the closely contested vote.

The pair had previously faced off in the vice presidential race in 2016 when Marcos lost to Robredo.

Marcos Jr is the son and namesake of his father who ruled the Philippines as a dictator until he was forced into exile in a popular uprising in 1986.

Robredo is a human rights lawyer and liberal legislator who has spearheaded campaigns against drug violence and gender inequality in the country.

Drugs-related violence in the country has killed at least 30,000 people according to some estimates, leading to an investigation by the international criminal court (ICC).

Marcos Jr’s probable victory would bring the Macros clan back to power after a gap of 36 years.

Pertinently, his running mate is the daughter of populist president Rodrigo Duterte, Sara, who is vying for the vice-presidency.

He has been shown as the preferred candidate of 56% of voters, according to a recent survey by Pulse Asia. Robredo, on the other hand, is favored by 23% of voters.

Elections Commissioner George Garcia told reporters on Sunday that he expected a huge turnout in the election.

“It’s a historic election, a very memorable one, simply because we’d be electing, at least in a pandemic situation, a new president and that’s why we’re expecting a high turnout of voters,” he was quoted as saying before the polling started.

This year’s election has been described as the most significant in the country’s recent history by analysts as it could result in democratic backsliding or liberal reforms.

During the election campaign, Marcos Jr spoke of “unity” while hailing his late father’s “genius” leadership. Robredo, on the other hand, promised a more transparent government and a return to democracy.

Counting of ballots is set to begin after the voting ends at 11:00 GMT and the winner could be known within a few hours, according to reports. There will be no second round.

Filipinos are also voting for the vice-president, senators, lower house legislators, and thousands of lower-ranking officials across the country’s 7,600 islands.

Voting marred by violence

The voting process on Monday was marred by violence after three people were killed in a deadly shooting incident in the restive Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines.

According to the country’s military, the assailants in two vans opened fire at the peacekeepers assisting the voting process in Buluan municipality on Mindanao Island at around 2325 GMT.

The victims were reportedly supporters of a local politician running for the post of Mayor.

The Commission on Elections reported another shooting incident on Monday morning in Sumisip town in Basilan province. No casualties were reported in the incident.

It came after five grenades exploded outside a polling station in Datu Unsay municipality late on Sunday, leaving at least nine people wounded, police said.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the spate of attacks in the areas tagged as "hot spots."

Elections have traditionally been a volatile time in the Philippines with sloppy gun laws and violent political culture, according to experts.

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