A tough-talking mayor, known as “the Punisher” for his lax attitude to extrajudicial killings, on Monday looked set to clinch the presidency in the Philippines with unofficial tallies giving him a big lead.
Rodrigo Duterte, a 71-year-old ex-prosecutor, had 38.9 percent in an initial tally of 60 percent of the vote, nearly 17 points ahead of the next candidate. The five-person race does not need a majority candidate to win — outgoing president Benigno Aquino won in 2010 with 42 percent.
Although the results are partial and unofficial, they are sourced by the authorised commission on elections through its automated voting system, reports the Guardian.
Duterte has run an obscenity-filled campaign in which he has boasted about Viagra-fuelled affairs and joked about raping a missionary.
Rights groups allege Duterte allowed vigilante squads to kill more than 1,000 suspected criminals during his two decades as mayor of Davao City, an accusation he has at times denied and at other times bragged about.
The political establishment has warned that years of solid economic growth is threatened and foreign governments have looked on with trepidation, as the country is a key regional player in the South China Sea dispute with Beijing.
The front-page headline of the Philippine Star on Monday summed up the anxiety: “It’s judgement day.”
The election commission reported no major complications and hoped to declare an official victor within 24 hours. That timeframe could be delayed as polling stations stayed open an hour longer to 6 p.m. (1000 GMT) to accommodate voters.
In his last campaign speech on Saturday, Duterte, whose quick-fix plans to end crime have wooed voters, said there would be mass killings of criminals under his presidency.
“Forget the laws on human rights,” he said. “If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because … I’d kill you.”
Voters are also drawn to Duterte’s promise to tackle corruption in a country that has experienced six percent economic growth on average while residents of slums still struggle to buy food. Many are frustrated with the political status quo in which a small clique governs the country.
Mo Neria, 32, a banker voting in the Makati district, said all candidates have similar agendas on the economy but people were voting for Duterte because of his “iron fist”. He added that, despite years of strong economic growth, “not everyone has benefited. Especially people in the provinces.”
Duterte’s opponents are most fearful of his threats to abolish congress or create a revolutionary government. The Philippines, the first democracy in south-east Asia, prides itself on ousting late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
In the five-way race with Duterte 10 poll points ahead, Aquino launched an 11th-hour attempt on Friday to unite the other candidates against him. Aquino had hoped they would rally their voters around his preferred successor, Manuel “Mar” Roxas, who is the grandson of a Filipino president.
Fifty-four million people are registered across the archipelago nation of more than 7,000 islands. Monday’s election is for 18,000 local and national representatives, including the president and vice-president, half of the senate, all governor posts, all mayors, and all city and municipal councils.