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Philippine Voters Prepare for Presidential Elections - 2004-05-09

Voters in the Philippines are preparing to go to the polls Monday to elect a president, legislators, and local leaders. Security forces have been placed on high alert because of fears of electoral violence and terrorist attacks.

The campaign period officially ended Saturday when many candidates held their final rallies. On Sunday, the five presidential candidates attended church together and prayed for a peaceful and orderly vote.

The service, which former presidents Corey Aquino and Fidel Ramos also attended, occurred amid rumors of plans to rig Monday's vote, a coup plot and threats of terrorist attacks. Security officials have denied the various reports and have mobilized thousands of additional police to counter violence.

The chairman of the national election commission, Benjamin Abalos, on Friday said preparations were complete and sought to counter widespread criticism of the commission.

"The commission is an independent commission and it is not a commission for any person or for any party, but a commission of the people," he said.

The chairman later was hospitalized due to a stress-related illness.

Forty three million eligible voters are to cast ballots Monday for a president and vice president, legislative representatives and local mayors and council members.

It is the third national election in the Philippines since the end of decades of authoritarian rule under the late Ferdinand Marcos.

Political scientist Jose Abueva of Kalayaan College says that nearly 20 years after the fall of Mr. Marcos, voters are increasingly disillusioned with politics.

"There is a decreasing number of citizens who are satisfied with the way democracy works, although they are very strongly in favor of democracy as an ideal political system," he said.

Professor Abueva notes that the Philippine constitution centralizes power around the president. But he says its political system does not provide the president with strong party backing or dependable political support in the legislature. As a result, he says, recent leaders have made little progress in addressing major problems like poverty, corruption and lawlessness.

Final public opinion polls show that President Gloria Arroyo is leading by a half dozen percentage points over her nearest rival, movie star Fernando Poe Junior. But the polls also say that 10 percent of the voters are still undecided.