Filipinos choose a new president in ‘historic’ election

Naga City, Philippines – Millions of Filipinos have begun voting to choose a new president in an election pitting the son of the Philippines’ late dictator against a liberal human rights lawyer.

Polls opened across the Southeast Asian nation at 6:00am on Monday (22:00GMT on Sunday), with a record-breaking 67 million people expected to cast their ballots.

Elections Commissioner George Garcia told reporters that he expected a huge turnout.

“It’s a historic election, a very memorable one, simply because we’d be electing, at least in a pandemic situation, a new president and that’s why we’re expecting a high turnout of voters,” he said before the polls opened.

Voting will end at 7pm (11:00 GMT), with polling hours extended because of the coronavirus pandemic and the need to avoid queues and crowds.

Counting of ballots will begin right away and the winner could be known within a few hours as the candidate with the most votes wins the election.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, right, casts his vote in the 2022 national elections at Mariano Marcos Memorial Elementary School, in Batac, Ilocos Norte, Philippines, May 9, 2022 [Eloisa Lopez/ Reuters]

There will be no second round.

Analysts have described Monday’s vote as the most significant election in recent Philippine history as the outcome could result in either democratic backsliding or liberal reforms.

The contest has shaped into a two-way race between Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr and the current Vice President Leni Robredo. The pair had previously faced off in the vice presidential race in 2016, with Marcos losing to Robredo at the time.

But Marcos leads the opinion surveys this time. He is the son and namesake of his father who ruled the Philippines as a dictator until he was forced from office and into exile in a popular uprising in 1986.

On the campaign trail, Marcos Jr has talked of “unity” but has provided little detail on his policies. He has hailed his late father’s “genius” leadership, and avoided media interviews and debates.

Robredo, a lawyer who heads the opposition, has promised a more transparent government and to reinvigorate the country’s democracy.

She threw her hat into the ring at a relatively late stage, and has relied on a network of pink-clad volunteers to win over voters across the archipelago.

“This election is really a good versus evil campaign,” University of the Philippines Diliman political scientist Aries Arugay told Al Jazeera. “It’s quite clear. [Marcos] represents dynasty, autocracy and impunity. Robredo stands for the opposite of that: integrity, accountability and democracy.”

Marcos’ running mate in the election is the outgoing president’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio. She is leading the race for the vice-presidency, an election that is held separately.

As a study in contrasts, Marcos voted early Monday in his father’s hometown of Buntac, while Robredo skipped the tradition of VIP treatment for candidates.

Instead, the incumbent vice president queued for nearly two hours to vote in Magarao, a poor municipality outside Naga City in Souther Luzon, where her family owns property.

One voter at Robredo’s polling station told Al Jazeera they were voting for her because they are concerned about the future of human rights and democracy, but for others, economic livelihood is their key priority.

The area is frequently in the path of natural disasters like typhoons and earthquakes, and residents are constantly rebuilding buildings and infrastructure.

Earlier on Monday in Naga City, polls opened with a prayer.

“Vote counting machine, please be good to us,” an election official said as she prayed before starting the machine that will be used to record and transmit the ballots.

Then, a bell rang to signal the opening of polls and the voters started coming in.

Outside the polling station, Maria Fe Cortes, 51, patiently waited in line for her turn.

“I’m voting for change. I hope the next president will help the poor,” Cortes told Al Jazeera.

As well as the presidential and vice-presidential race, Filipinos are choosing members of congress, governors and thousands of local politicians including mayors and councillors.

The president, vice president and senators are elected for six year terms, and the rest for three years.

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