Duterte allies dominate Senate midterm election in Philippines, first results show

Evarado Alatorre
May 16, 2019

Filipinos vote Monday in midterm polls that are expected to strengthen President Rodrigo Duterte's grip on power, opening the way for him to deliver on pledges to restore the death penalty and rewrite the constitution.

Those leading include Duterte's former police chief, who enforced the president's crackdown on illegal drugs, a campaign that's left thousands of suspects dead and drawn worldwide condemnation. About 61 million people are registered to vote.

They would join 12 Senate incumbents, only four of whom are from the opposition, including Leila de Lima, the biggest critic of Duterte's deadly anti-drugs crackdown, held since 2017 on narcotics charges.

The opening of the polls were accompanied by isolated outbursts of violence, which is not unusual in the Philippines' frequently bloody competition for elected posts.

While the results of the elections are still unofficial, Philippine presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo on Tuesday told a news conference at the presidential palace that "there appears to be an unstoppable trend towards a resounding victory of the administration's favored senatorial candidates".

The midterms - which mark the halfway point in a president's six-year tenure - are seen as a referendum on Duterte's hardline anti-crime policies.

Early on Monday, nine people were shot and wounded during a confrontation at a polling station in Jolo, which is home to insurgents and powerful local clans, according to the military.

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The violence is more frequent in the lower-level races and will probably not be a major feature in the contest for the Senate.

But for Duterte the key is wresting control of an independent-minded Senate while keeping the House of Representatives in the hands of his allies.

The opposition warns a Duterte majority in the Senate could lead to the single-term limit for the presidency being lifted, allowing him to seek reelection despite his repeated statements that he would stand down at the end of his mandate.

The Philippines outlawed capital punishment in 1987, reinstated it six years later and then abolished again in 2006.

Mr Duterte, 74, hit the campaign trail to get his supporters into the Senate, giving two-hour speeches at late-night rallies and routinely insulting their opponents - referring to one by a homophobic slur and accusing another of working for communist guerrillas.

The results for municipal and city mayors and councils are expected within hours after the polls close at 6:00 pm Monday, with winners for the Senate and congressional seats scheduled to be declared from Friday. But the various initiatives launched under Duterte have also included proposals dropping term limits, allowing the president to run for another term and weakening checks on presidential power.

She is now mayor of Davao City, a post previously held by her father, and could follow in his footsteps to run for president in 2022.

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