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Arroyo Continues to Hold Slim Lead in Philippine Election - 2004-05-22

With almost two-thirds of the votes toted up in the Philippine national elections, an unofficial count shows that incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo continues to hold a slim lead over her major opponent. The interim vote count comes amid persistent allegations by opposition groups of election irregularities, but a private group says the vote seems to have been fair.

The National Movement for Free Elections, or Namfrel, an unofficial election watchdog, said on Saturday it had tallied roughly 63 percent of the votes cast around the country. Its count showed President Arroyo leading main challenger Fernando Poe Jr. by about 700,000 votes, a lead of three percentage points with roughly 20 million votes counted.

The turnout of about 75 percent of eligible voters was lower than in previous polls, but Namfrel said the election was credible and seems to have reflected the will of the people.

The main opposition coalition, KNP, whose candidate is Mr. Poe, has cried foul. The group charges that the poll was marred by widespread cheating in favor of the government.

Mr. Poe earlier this week claimed that results compiled by the opposition showed he had won the election, but the government's Commission on Elections and Namfrel have both dismissed that claim as premature.

Namfrel Secretary-General Bill Luz said his group found scattered instances of fraud and other flaws, but they were linked mainly to local contests and did not affect the votes for president and vice president.

"The results of the 2004 elections from our viewpoint are credible and reflect the vote of the people," he said. "We did not see enough electoral anomalies on a national level to have material effect on the national results."

Mr. Luz said based on Namfrel's past experience that there is unlikely to be any major change in the voting order for president, meaning Mrs. Arroyo would be the winner.

However, the official result is not expected for at least a week and perhaps longer, as Congress still has to conduct the final count for president and vice president.

The government has meanwhile warned politicians from all sides against making inflammatory remarks during the counting process. It has also beefed up security around the presidential palace in case disgruntled groups try to stage violent street protests similar to one on May 1, 2001, when supporters of former President Joseph Estrada tried to storm the palace.

Mr. Estrada was ousted from office in a so-called "people power" revolt amid evidence that he was involved in widespread corruption, and Mrs. Arroyo, his vice president, took over. The ouster was controversial, but was upheld by the Philippine Supreme Court.