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Campaigning for Philippines National Elections Wraps Up - 2004-05-07


Campaigning for national elections in the Philippines is wrapping up, with candidates holding final rallies prior to Monday's vote. Frontrunners President Gloria Arroyo and opposition leader Fernando Poe Junior, will hold final rallies on Saturday.

It is late at night at a market in downtown Manila. A crowd of people is bouncing to music pounding from speakers on a portable soundstage.

They are attending a rally of the Coalition of United Filipinos, led by presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., a popular movie star.

The master of ceremonies warms up the crowd with jokes and antics. Then a troupe of young men does a break-dancing routine.

Six young ladies perform a synchronized dance, and even candidates' children get into the act.

With the crowd in a good mood, the candidates make their speeches.

This candidate praises Mr. Poe, known by his initials FPJ, and exhorts the crowd to vote the party ticket.

The scene is typical of political rallies in the Philippines, whose 80 million inhabitants are known for their love of music and show business.

The tradition works. Historically, between 80 and 90 percent of registered voters go to the polls on election day, despite economic stagnation and widespread disillusionment with political leaders.

A professor of politics at Manila's De La Salle University, Antonio Pedro, says the music and dance show how people view the elections.

?If they perceive the electoral process to be producing more of the same, then they'd rather just derive entertainment value out of it,? he said.

Celebrities - including movie stars, singers, broadcast journalists and television evangelists - are often candidates. And analysts note that the campaigns often revolve around personalities, rather than issues. A professor at Philippines University, Randy David, says that does not mean, however, that the issues are not important to some.

?People approach candidates on the basis of a basic liking or dislike, and then, if they care to, they probably search their minds for more rational justifications for their initial intuitions,? he said.

Civic groups are trying to promote better governance and greater accountability from elected officials through voter education programs.

One program urges voters to refrain from accepting money in exchange for their vote. Another program focuses on the local level, where voter demands are more basic, and officials live in closer contact with their constituents.

But experts agree that the challenges facing a candidate for national office - to reach a diverse population living on more than 7,000 islands - means that money, politics and celebrity candidates are likely to remain a major part of the democratic process.

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