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Philippine President's Rule Plagued by Questions of Legitimacy From Start


During the past week, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has been fighting the biggest battle of her political life as calls for her resignation over alleged electoral fraud have intensified.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's presidency has been a battle for political legitimacy from the start. She rose to power in January 2001 when, as vice president, she took over from President Joseph Estrada, who was ousted by mass protests over corruption allegations.

But only months after she became president, a mob tried to force Mrs. Arroyo out of Malacanang Palace, saying she stole the presidency.

Then, in 2003, a group of young military officers staged a rebellion in the financial district, allegedly backed by opposition figures linked to her predecessor.

However, the diminutive Mrs. Arroyo survived these challenges. Supported by the influential Catholic Church, a majority of the military, big business, and a coalition of political parties, in 2004 she won a full presidential term by a narrow margin.

But her political foundation has since dramatically weakened, as political allies, business and church groups have demanded she resign, saying she lacks the moral authority and the capacity to govern.

What has loosened Mrs. Arroyo's grip on power is a telephone conversation she made to a senior election official during the 2004 presidential vote, in which she allegedly specified the margin she needed. Mrs. Arroyo has apologized for the inappropriateness of the call, but has repeatedly denied rigging the vote.

Accusations that her husband, son and brother-in-law pocketed money from illegal gambling operators to finance her campaign have further undermined her position. Her most recent popularity rating dropped to the lowest-ever for a Philippine president.

But a defiant Mrs. Arroyo has vowed to do all she can for the Filipino people and to protect democracy even, she says, to the point of sacrificing her own life for the country.

The daughter of a former president, Ms. Arroyo, was a popular political figure during her early years as a politician. She topped the senatorial race in 1992 and won the vice-presidential race in 1998 by a landslide.

But as president, the U.S.-educated economist has struggled to implement political and economic reforms, aimed at ending endemic corruption and poverty plaguing the nation of 84 million. Some of these policies, such as an expanded tax system, are highly unpopular.

She is considered a tough administrator, known to publicly berate public officials who fall short of her expectations. But she is also seen as hardworking, touring the countryside often and working long hours.

Mrs. Arroyo has improved relations between Manila and Washington, becoming one of the United States' staunchest Asian allies in the war against terrorism.

She has also tried to bring stability to the troubled south by resuming peace talks with the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front. But terror attacks continue to hit the south - and even the capital - periodically.

Mrs. Arroyo once said hers was a "lonely" job. But as a devout Catholic, she says she draws strength from God, who is her "best friend".

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