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Arroyo Ally Elected Governor of Autonomous Philippine Muslim Region

The candidate of the Philippine ruling party, Zaldy Ampatuan, has been elected governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with nearly two-thirds of the vote.

Nearly one million people cast ballots in Monday's poll, but the Secretary-General of the independent monitoring NAMFREL group, Bill Luz, said there were many irregularities. "By the Commission on Elections' own admission, the voters list had not been properly cleaned up and they admitted that there were some padded lists and so that always makes it difficult to check the results," he said.

NAMFREL was among several groups that had called for the elections to be postponed. Two former Muslim insurgent groups, the Moro National Liberation Front-MNLF-and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front-MILF-boycotted the elections, calling them meaningless.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which groups five predominantly Muslim provinces and one city in the southern Philippines, was formed nine years ago as part of a peace agreement between the government and the MNLF. The government is currently engaged in peace talks with the MILF.

During the campaign, several candidates, including the MNLF candidate and incumbent governor Parouk Hussin, withdrew, citing interference by the administration of President Gloria Arroyo.

Mr. Luz said the Arroyo administration originally said it would not endorse any candidate. "But at the end of the day it appeared that the administration was endorsing a candidate. Thus other candidates backed off. And since it was done all behind the scenes, I think it was not a good sign," he said.

President Arroyo is facing an impeachment complaint in Congress over allegations of rigging the national elections last year. Many of the allegations center on parts of Mindanao, which traditionally has been led by the family of the governor-elect.

Since its creation, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has failed to measurably improve living standards in one of the country's poorest regions. Its leaders accuse the central government of withholding badly needed resources. But critics say a bigger problem is corruption and poor governance.