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Voters Go to Polls in Southern Philippines - 2001-11-26

Voters in the autonomous Muslim region of the southern Philippines went to the polls Monday to elect a governor and regional council. Voter turnout was light but largely peaceful.

Security was tight in the five provinces and one city that make up the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), about 1,000 kilometers south of Manila. Thousands of security forces were deployed at voting centers across the region.

The polling was orderly although two minor attacks were reported on the eve of the election in Maguindanao province. No one was injured.

Many voters stayed away from the polls either because of apathy or because of fear of violence from rebels seeking an independent Muslim state in the region.

A senior official with the Philippine Commission on Elections, Luzviminda Tancangco, expressed satisfaction with the polling, but said all parties must accept the results. "The question is what would happen during the counting and canvassing of votes, for all the candidates to accept faithfully whatever the results [are] of the voting. But if they feel they have been cheated because the process is unfair then that would start trouble. Historically, 90 percent of all cases filed after election come from these ARMM provinces," Tancangco said.

The official says polls did not open in some parts of Sulu because the military could not guarantee voter safety.

The voters were choosing a governor, vice-governor and a 24-member council for the autonomous region. ARMM's first governor, Nur Misuari, rejected the ballot and did not run for re-election.

Mr. Misuari fled to Malaysia last week after his supporters launched a mortar attack on an army garrison on Jolo Island. More than a hundred people were killed in subsequent clashes with government troops.

The Philippine government accuses Mr. Misuari of ordering the attack in order to disrupt the elections and has charged him with rebellion. Mr. Misuari was arrested Saturday in Malaysia and faces deportation.

Mr. Misuari led the Moro National Liberation Front that for more than two decades fought for independence for the southern Philippines. He became governor five years ago after signing a peace agreement with the Philippine government in exchange for autonomy.

Mr. Misuari was ousted as chairman of the Front last April and a rival, Parouk Hussin, was chosen as the Front's candidate for governor.