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Philippine Exit Polls Indicate Unexpected Opposition Gains

  • Douglas Bakshian

Exit polls in the Philippines are suggesting that the opposition did better than expected in Monday's congressional elections. However, President Gloria Arroyo is still expected to keep control of the House of Representatives, where two attempts to impeach her were defeated by her allies. Meanwhile, violence continues to take its toll on the political process. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.

According to partial exit polls, opposition candidates are leading in eight of the 12 Senate races, while administration candidates are ahead in two, and independents in two others.

Before Monday's elections, analysts had forecast that the opposition would win only six Senate seats.

Whatever the final results in the Senate, experts expect the Arroyo administration to easily retain a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, where her supporters have twice defeated impeachment bids by the opposition.

One possible surprise to emerge from the Senate race is the projected victory of former navy lieutenant Antonio Trillanes. Trillanes, who is an opposition candidate, is in jail. He is accused of taking part in a coup plot in 2003, but says he was only trying to expose military and government corruption. He campaigned from prison, and apparently made a strong impression in media interviews over the last few weeks.

A victory by Trillanes would go against the normal pattern in Philippine politics, which is traditionally dominated by major families and the occasional movie star or other celebrity. Analyst Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms says this shows the public is receptive to candidates who stand for something.

"When people really have a real choice, as against a choice among the lesser evils, so called - among the traditional politicians - then they would prefer new faces, new people, who are promising or are fighting for something. Rather than the old tired politicians," said Casiple.

The Philippines is known for the "people power" movement that threw out dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and President Joseph Estrada in 2001. Casiple says this election shows that that spirit is still burning.

"Democracy in the Philippines is not dead, it is alive. But unfortunately, the one keeping it alive are the people, not yet their leaders," he said.

Meanwhile, election-related violence continues to take its toll. Two teachers died Tuesday in Batangas, south of Manila, when armed men attacked the school where they were counting ballots and set it on fire. At least 126 people have now been killed in election-related incidents.

At least 75 percent of the nation's 45 million voters cast ballots, which are being counted manually. Official results for the House are expected within a week, for the Senate in two weeks, and the results of thousands of local races are expected within days.

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