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Philippines kicks off chaotic election campaign season

BOCAUE, PHILIPPINES (AFP) – The race to lead the Philippines kicked off yesterday, with the son and namesake of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos the favourite to succeed authoritarian firebrand Rodrigo Duterte and return his clan to the presidential palace they once fled.

Candidates hit the hustings for the three-month campaign season in a chaotic and colourful charm offensive aimed at wooing millions of voters typically more interested in personality than policy. More than 35 years after the country emerged from his father’s dictatorship, polls showed Ferdinand Marcos Jr heading towards a landslide victory in the May 9 elections.

Boosted by a massive social media campaign and 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”.

Thousands of supporters chanting “Bongbong, Sara” crowded into an indoor stadium owned by an influential church near Manila for a noisy, rock concert-like campaign launch of the running mates.

“When I first declared my intention to run as leader, as president of the Philippines, my only wish was to make our country united again,” Marcos Jr told cheering fans.

Supporters of vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, display banners during a rally in front of the commission on election office in Manila. PHOTO: AFP

“Unity is my cause because of my firm belief that unity is the first step towards getting out of this crisis we are now in.”

Incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo – a former lawyer for the disadvantaged and a rival of Marcos Jr and Duterte – is a distant second in voter surveys.

Kicking off her pink-coloured campaign in Lupi town in the central province of Camarines Sur, Robredo told supporters she was “filled with courage because you are with me”.

Robredo is ahead of celebrity mayor Francisco Domagoso, boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao and ex-police chief Panfilo Lacson.

“The overwhelming presidential favourite remains Marcos,” said Eurasia Group analyst Peter Mumford, giving the former senator “70 per cent odds” of winning.

“Many of Duterte’s ‘pro-authoritarian’ supporters see Marcos as the continuity ‘strongman’ candidate,” Mumford said.