Philippine voters streamed to polling stations on Monday, with prospects high of a once-unthinkable return to power for the Marcos family, 36 years after strongman Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in a "people power" uprising.
The presidential election pits Vice President Leni Robredo against former senator and congressman Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the dictator whose two decade rule ended in a public revolt and his family's humiliating retreat into exile.
Around 18,000 posts, from the vice presidency, seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives to mayors, governors and councilors are also up for grabs.
Opinion polls put Marcos, popularly known as "Bongbong," leading his rival by over 30 percentage points in the presidential race, having topped every poll this year. That means Robredo will need a late surge or low turnout if she is to win. Turnout appeared high, election officials said, which would favor Marcos. The officials said they saw no major disruptions, although police were investigating the killing of three people near a polling station.
Voting started at 6 a.m. (2200 GMT Sunday) and is scheduled to close at 7 p.m. (1100 GMT), with polling stations operating longer than usual because of COVID-19 precautions.
An unofficial vote count could give an indication of the winner within hours of the close.
Marcos, 64, cast his ballot in his home province of Ilocos Norte, surrounded by bodyguards and accompanied by family members, including his son who is running for congress.
Asked by a reporter how voting was going, he said: "It was fine," before leaving the polling station.
Marcos has presented no real policy platform but his presidency is expected to provide continuity from outgoing leader Rodrigo Duterte, whose ruthless, strongman approach proved popular and helped him to consolidate power rapidly.
His daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, is tipped to win the vice presidency. Although the president and vice president are elected separately, Marcos and Duterte-Carpio are aligned.
Election Commissioner George Erwin Garcia said he was "overwhelmed' by the number of voters flocking to polling centers despite the pandemic threat.
The elections commission noted minor voting delays in some precincts, but said these were isolated.
Separately, police were investigating the killing of three members of a local peacekeeping force who were shot by unidentified assailants near a polling station in Maguindanao province in the restive southern region of Mindanao. No motive has been established.
In some instances, long queues were due to malfunctioning vote-counting machines, according to media reports.
Robredo, who voted in her home province of Camarines Sur, expressed concern after the reports.
"I hope the authorities will show they are on top of everything," she told reporters. Retired boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, who is running a distant third in polls for the presidency, said the surveys did not capture his support among the poor and said he was "confident" he could cause a surprise.
Voter Thelma Manansala said she hoped her compatriots will be discerning in choosing the next leaders.
"We Filipinos are facing a lot of hardships and we really need a change of leadership," said Manansala, 58.
Marcos is buoyed by the support of many younger Filipinos born after the 1986 revolution, having launched a massive social media offensive in an upbeat campaign that has carried undertones of historical revisionism.
His supporters have dismissed narratives of plunder, cronyism and brutality under the martial law of his late father as lies peddled by opponents, presenting what his critics say is a different version of history. The Marcos camp has denied running misinformation campaigns.
Despite its fall from grace, the Marcos family returned from exile in the 1990s and has since been a powerful force in politics, retaining its influence with vast wealth and far-reaching connections.
The vote also presents an opportunity for Marcos to avenge his loss to Robredo in the 2016 vice presidential election, a narrow defeat by just 200,000 votes that he sought unsuccessfully to overturn.
Marcos has steered clear of debates and has campaigned on a message of optimism and unity.
Robredo, 57, a former human rights lawyer and staunch liberal, has pledged to improve education and welfare, fight poverty and improve market competition if elected.
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