By HRVOJE HRANJSKI, Associated Press
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada was leading in the vote-count for mayor of Manila on Tuesday in what could be his first elected post since he was ousted in a 2001 revolt on corruption charges.
In other partial results following Monday's congressional and local polls, nine senatorial candidates backed by President Benigno Aquino III took an early lead against three candidates backed by an opposition coalition. About half the votes have been reported so far, and if the trend continues, the win will ensure support for Aquino's remaining three years in office.
Elections Commission Chairman Sixto Brillantes said he expects turnout of 70 percent. More than 52 million voters registered to elect 18,000 officials, including half of the 24-member Senate, nearly 300 members of the House of Representatives and leaders of a Muslim autonomous region in the south, where Islamic insurgents and militants are a concern.
Estrada was capitalizing on his movie-star popularity, particularly among the poor masses, and urban decay in Manila, the historical heart of the Philippine capital along Manila Bay. Once a lively tourist spot, the streets of Manila have become neglected, many popular establishments moved out and residents complain of crime.
Incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim, a former city police chief, once had a reputation as a tough crime fighter nicknamed "Dirty Harry." He was backed by Aquino in his bid to keep his job against Estrada's movie-star charm. Both men have skeletons in their closets. Estrada was removed in the military-backed uprising and later convicted of corruption then pardoned, and under Lim's watch, eight Hong Kong tourists were killed by a hostage-taker in 2010 in a bungled police rescue.
Estrada, 78, said Tuesday he felt vindicated. "'It's my consolation that people still have trust in me despite all the black propaganda thrown at me," he said.
Lim refused to concede and with 96 percent of the votes counted, it was a close race and with a difference of 30,427 votes.
The outcome of the midterm polls will determine the level of support for Aquino's reforms. He has been praised at home and abroad for cracking down on widespread corruption, backing key legislation and concluding an initial peace agreement with Muslim rebels.
But he cannot run for re-election in 2016 and his endorsement of a candidate to succeed him, who will be expected to continue on the same reform path, will depend on the new political landscape.
The Aquino administration is confident they will maintain the majority in the House and the focus of the electoral battle was on the Senate, traditionally a springboard for the presidency, said Ramon Casiple, head of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
"The implication of a Senate that is his ally is that he will have the needed support for his policies and programs," Casiple said. "Definitely he will not be a lame duck for the next three years because of that, much more if he maintains his popularity. This means they will be more in a position to contest the 2016 presidential elections on a more stable foundation."
As in previous elections, the ballots were stacked with familiar names of at least 250 political families who have monopolized power across the country, from former first lady Imelda Marcos, 83, to newly minted politicians like boxing star Manny Pacquiao. Both are expected to keep their House seats.
Associated Press writers Oliver Teves and Jim Gomez contributed to this report.
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