MANILA (AFP) – Philippine election candidates will hit the hustings tomorrow, the official start of campaigning, with the son and namesake of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos leading the presidential race as he seeks the ultimate revival of the family brand.
Political scions, celebrities and ex-convicts are among the contenders vying for more than 18,000 posts in the May 9 polls, with most interest on the contest to succeed authoritarian firebrand Rodrigo Duterte, whose six-year presidency has been marked by foul-mouthed tirades and a deadly drug war.
More than 35 years after the Philippines emerged from his father’s dictatorship, voter surveys show Ferdinand Marcos Jr heading towards a landslide victory as a massive social media campaign cranks up support and, critics said whitewashes the clan’s history.
Boosted by a formidable alliance with first daughter and vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte, Marcos Jr – one of the most polarising figures in the Philippines – has vowed “to unify the country and give our fellowmen the future that they deserve”.
In the Philippines, the president and vice-president are elected separately.
Efforts to disqualify Marcos Jr over a decades-old tax conviction sparked a public spat between election officials, while allegations of corruption among presidential candidates have fuelled a political atmosphere of chaos and skulduggery.
As usual, personality will trump politics for many of the roughly 65 million voters deciding who to support.
“This will be a campaign dominated by personalities and political dynasties, rather than a contest over policies or economic ideologies,” said Eurasia Group analyst Peter Mumford.
Outgoing presidents usually identify their preferred successor, who they hope will keep them out of prison as much as protect their legacy.
But Duterte has been silent since his choice, loyal aide Senator Christopher Go, pulled out of the contest. Polls show Marcos Jr, popularly known as ‘Bongbong’, with a huge lead in a field of five credible candidates for president.
Some analysts are still cautious about calling a winner in a race that only requires the victor to get more votes than anyone else.
Vice-President Leni Robredo – the opposition candidate and nemesis of both Marcos Jr and Duterte – is a distant second, ahead of celebrity mayor Francisco Domagoso, retired boxing champion Manny Pacquiao and ex-police chief Panfilo Lacson.
Victory for Marcos Jr would mark the ultimate political comeback for his controversial clan, which was chased into United States exile after the patriarch’s humiliating downfall in 1986.