Call for "healing" as polls close in Philippines

Voting for a new president and thousands of local officials drew to a close in the Philippines Monday, with the frontrunner in the presidential race, Rodrigo Duterte, calling for healing after an acrimonious campaign.

The Commission on Elections extended voting by one hour past the 5 pm (0900 GMT) cut-off in precincts where polling was delayed by malfunctioning vote-counting machines.

Queueing voters less than 30 metres from the polling stations were allowed to cast their ballots.

Frontrunner Duterte, the outspoken mayor of the southern city of Davao, was mobbed by thousands of supporters as he voted in the city.

“I would like to reach my hands out to my opponents,” the 71-year-old told a press conference after casting his ballot. “Let us begin the healing now. We are responsible for the security of this nation. We are responsible for the integrity of this country.”

When asked if he was confident of winning, he said, “I am not positive. I'm telling you: I ain't there until I am there.”

There was no immediate indication of the turnout in the polls. More than half of the predominantly Catholic country's estimated population of 100 million - some 54 million people – were registered to vote.

A civilian poll watchdog said it received numerous reports of vote-counting machines overheating and refusing to accept ballots. There were also reports of widespread vote buying, and security officials reported sporadic violence.

At least 12 people were killed in the hours after the polls opened at 6 am, including seven campaign volunteers just south of Manila, and four people in several attacks in the conflict-wracked southern region of Mindanao, according to police.

Unidentified men burned down a school designated as a polling centre in Lanao del Norte prove, while in a town of nearby Maguindanao, gunmen forced their way into another school and made off with 10 vote-counting machines before the polls opened.

Duterte has raised eyebrows for cursing, physical threats against criminals, threatening to dissolve parliament to avoid impeachment for any human rights violations, and making off-colour jokes about the rape of an Australian missionary who died in a 1989 prison riot.

But his anti-crime stance has struck a chord amid public dissatisfaction over slow progress in the administration to combat poverty, crime and corruption despite rapid economic growth.

Outgoing President Benigno Aquino, who has been credited for the economic boost, called earlier for a peaceful and credible election.

"In a democracy, everyone makes a decision," he said. "In the end, after the elections, may the bickering end."

Aquino had called on rivals of Duterte to work together to defeat him amid fears his administration would turn into a dictatorship, some 30 years after late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted.

The dictator's only son and namesake, popularly called by his nickname "Bongbong," is running for vice-president.

“I’m feeling that by all indications we should be successful today,” he told reporters. “Do not allow your voices to be silenced,” he said. “Do not allow the true choice of the people to be defeated.”

Vote-counting machines will transmit results as soon as precincts are closed to a central server in Manila.

Reliable early indications of the results are expected from a quick count by the civilian watchdog, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.

Only Congress can officially tally the votes for president and vice president.

Last update: Mon, 09/05/2016 - 12:48

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