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Arroyo Calls for Unity After Named Winner in Elections - 2004-06-21


Philippine President Gloria Arroyo says she will work to heal the bitterness from May's elections so her administration can face tough challenges. Her promise comes after Congress Sunday confirmed her million-vote victory over her popular actor opponent.

President Gloria Arroyo promised Monday to restore a sense of national unity after finally winning the divisive May 10 election.

"We'll wait patiently and let the constitutional process run its course," she said. "Let's get together. Join hands."

A congressional panel completed its two-week vote tally late Sunday and confirmed Mrs. Arroyo, a U.S.-educated economist, beat her opponent, actor Fernando Poe Jr., by more than one million votes. Opposition leaders say they will continue their challenge, saying the president's supporters manipulated the results. Protests are planned and the military is on alert for possible unrest.

Philipe Miranda is a political scientist at the University of the Philippines in Manila. He says popular opposition to President Arroyo's re-election could potentially spiral out of control. "If you have a dramatic incident or two, that will incline people to think that everything has really gone beyond the edge and that now you can resort to political alternatives that may include outright violence."

Police on Sunday diffused two powerful bombs discovered near government ministries in Manila. And after the final vote tally was announced Sunday night, small metal spikes were tossed onto major roads across the capital. More than 130 cars and trucks were slightly damaged. Police believe the incidents are linked to anti-Arroyo groups.

Mr. Miranda says the president will have to overcome the public's concerns about the election if she hopes to be politically effective during her second term. "Given the kind of count that inclined people to doubt the integrity of previous elections, that is precisely the sort of thing that might be needed in order for them to initiate the kind of economic reforms that would enable this country to get out of the mess it is in," he says.

The Philippine Congress is expected to officially declare Mrs. Arroyo president for a second term on Friday. She will be sworn-in for a six-year term on June 30.

Gloria Arroyo came to power in January 2001 amid popular dissatisfaction with then-president Joseph Estrada - also an actor and friend of Fernando Poe. Mr. Estrada was forced to step down when the military and government threw its support behind Vice President Arroyo during massive demonstrations. Mr. Estrada is in police custody pending trial for corruption.

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