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Local vote strengthens Aquino. Filipino President wins majority, but margin shaved

The return of grass-roots democracy to the Philippines brought a surge in violence. But the military hopes Monday's local elections will help them in their war against communist rebels by strengthening the Aquino government's grip throughout the country. The polling was generally peaceful by Philippine standards despite isolated outbreaks of violence and cheating. The relative calm was in sharp contrast to the seven-week election campaign during which some 100 people were killed, according to the army.

For Filipinos it marked a further step back to democracy after two decades of strongman rule by Ferdinand Marcos.

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Analysts said the elections, which are expected to confirm popular support for President Corazon Aquino, could give her government added political stability.

Partial counts showed a mixed result for Mrs. Aquino's candidates in Manila. But analysts said it appeared likely her loose ruling coalition would gain a comfortable majority across the country, adding to the firm hold she already has on the two-house Congress.

``That is the missing link in our entire machinery to fight the insurgency and lawlessness in our society,'' Armed Forces chief Fidel Ramos said.

Delays in the vote count in at least five towns around Manila, where Aquino candidates were locked in a close battle with opposition groups, sparked charges of vote-rigging and threats by losing candidates to stage protest marches.

Partial, unofficial results showed Aquino's coalition winning many of the 62 governorships being contested.

But an Aquino relative running for mayor in suburban Quezon city and a businessman Aquino backed for mayor in Cebu, the country's second largest city, appeared headed for defeat.

At least five other candidates of the ruling coalition were struggling to survive in the mayoralty contests in the 17-town metropolitan Manila area.

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In the provinces, two former army colonels, Rodolfo Aguinaldo and Rolando Abadilla, who were accused of joining failed anti-Aquino revolts last year, were winning.

Sen. Ernesto Maceda, a former coalition member turned Aquino critic, predicted the coalition would win at least 60 percent of the provincial and municipal posts, well below the 85 percent vote which it took in last May's congressional vote. ``It's a diminution of her popularity,'' Mr. Maceda said.

But other analysts cautioned against using the local elections as a barometer for national political trends and noted that in many cases several coalition candidates were running against each other.

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