MANILA – After waiting for over 30 years, Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr is finally set to become the Philippines’ 17th president.
As at 10pm on Monday (May 9), hours after balloting closed in the presidential election, the 64-year-old son and namesake of the late dictator had already chalked up close to 22 million votes in partial, unofficial results.
His nearest rival, incumbent Vice-President Leni Robredo, 57, was behind by over 11 million votes, with 36 million out of some 67 million cast votes counted.
Data analysts said the trend pointed to Mr Marcos Jr ultimately getting between 27 million and 32 million votes. Ms Robredo would get 15 million at most, they said.
Mr Marcos Jr’s running mate, Ms Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, ispoised to become vice-president, with a 14 million lead over second placer Senator Kiko Pangilinan, Ms Robredo’s running mate.
Monday night’s results were in line with opinion polls that forecast a landslide win for both Mr Marcos Jr and Ms Duterte-Carpio.
Millions of voters swarmed their precincts even before polling started at 6am – queuing under the already searing morning sun for hours – to make sure their votes would count in what was seen as the most consequential and most contested election in Philippine history in over 30 years.
Ms Robredo’s supporters had believed the gap was much narrower, citing the mammoth turnout in her political rallies, the fervour shown by her mostly young volunteers, and flaws in the surveys.
But “it was a big gap to close”, said Mr Peter Mumford, lead analyst for South and South-east Asia at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
Monday’s massive voter turnout early in the day reflected how ferociously fought this year’s political contest had been, largely because of what the top two leading candidates represent.
Mr Marcos Jr styled himself as the “continuity candidate”, one who would pursue Mr Duterte’s policies, including his bloody drug war and rapprochement with China.
To critics, he represents the return to power of a political family that court records and historical accounts hold responsible for mass killings and institutionalised kleptocracy during the 20-year reign of his father that ended in 1986, when a military-backed civilian revolt forced the Marcoses to flee the Philippines.
Ms Robredo, on the other hand, is heir to the 1986 pro-democracy movement that ousted Marcos Sr.
She has been pushing back against the Marcoses’ narrative that the Marcos years were marked by peace and prosperity, and that the 1986 revolt was nothing more than a coup orchestrated by a powerful minority.
Ms Robredo has also said that she will roll back many of Mr Duterte’s actions.
These political differences have driven a wedge among families and friends.
Mr Benjamin Esguerra, 74, a pensioner, said he voted for Ms Robredo “because of all the candidates, she’s the one who is most well-known for her track record and her achievements”.
“This country needs someone who is honest, has integrity, morality, and capability,” he said.
But he said his wife, who is a member of the influential Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), likely voted for Mr Marcos Jr.
Mr Vic Carpio, 48, who owns a small fleet of ride-sharing cars, said he found himself in the minority in his neighbourhood.
“My neighbours all had these tarps for Leni. But I’m voting for (Marcos Jr) because I think he’s sincere in wanting to turn things around, despite what they’re saying about him and his past,” he said.
Even those who were too old to walk on their own and the infirm – those most vulnerable to the Coronavirus still spreading through the population – found ways to vote.
“It’s been difficult, but it’s important that I vote,” said Mr Augusto Fabello, 64, a retiree.
Before noon, the top candidates had already cast their ballots, though they, too, had to suffer through the glitches that marred the early hours of polling day.
Mr Marcos Jr was the first candidate to vote, arriving at his precinct at around 8am and being done with it in minutes.
Ms Robredo showed up to vote just before noon, held up for two hours by the winding queue and slow process at her polling station.
“We have lawyers on standby. We have to report and document everything we’re seeing outside of the norm,” said told reporters when asked about the hours-long wait, faulty voting machines and questionable ballots.
She added: “The last thing we want is to see the integrity of our election crumble because this is what creates disorder.”
Polling was marred by queues at polling precincts that lasted from four to eight hours for many, as voting machines were plagued by paper jams, unreadable ballots and printing issues.
As many were still yet to step into a polling booth as the clock ticked towards the close of voting at 7pm, tempers flared as those still queueing demanded an explanation for why they were suddenly on the verge of being disenfranchised.
“We don’t want to talk to you! We want someone who can give answers, not excuses!” a woman was shown on a viral video shouting at a volunteer trying to placate a roomful of voters at a precinct in Quezon City, north of Manila.
Ms Maebel Quiambao, 38, a mall clerk, had been queueing since 1pm at another precinct in Makati city, the country’s financial hub, but was still lining up as 7pm approached.
“My vote will be wasted if I walk away now. I won’t let that happen,” she said.