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Filipino Vote Breaks With Past

Despite a drawn-out process of counting ballots, elections marked clear move away from Marcos-era politics

IN an unexpected twist, Imelda Marcos, who came to the Philippines after a six-year exile to run for president, conceded last week and threw her support to the man responsible for her ouster, Fidel Ramos. Once loyal to her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, Mr. Ramos led a successful uprising against him in 1986.

"Philippine politics is like a three-level chess game - `honest' politics on the top, `traditional politics' based on who you know and family connections one layer below, and even more buried, politics based on alliances with underground movements," says Terrance George, an American political analyst working in the Philippines. "A move on any level affects all three games, but may only seem to make sense if viewed from one of the levels."

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The Philippine Congress formally proclaimed Ramos president yesterday. Although voting took place May 11, the official tally, which indicates Ramos captured 23.5 percent of the vote, was completed only June 21. Ramos, who was supported by President Corazon Aquino, defeated six other candidates, including Mrs. Marcos, Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco, and current Vice President Salvador Laurel. Ramos is expected to be sworn into office June 30.

Even though the long, drawn-out process of counting ballots and allegations of fraud cast a shadow over the recently concluded elections, most observers agree the exercise was a modest step forward in the country's democratic development and a decisive move away from the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship.

Furthermore, the role of the United States government in the campaign may have been less prominent than in the past, according to a Western diplomat.

"It may not have been a perfect election, and the counting was unforgivably slow," said Nelson Navaro, a local political analyst, "but democracy is not an efficient way of doing things. While the elections may not have been a major turning point in our political maturity, at least we are no longer stagnant, but moving forward."

The slow count was the result of efforts to make the process more open, glitches caused by chronic power outages, and congressional stalling due to varying interpretations of new election laws, according to Commission on Elections officials.

In the past, Philippine elections were said to be determined by the three "Gs": goons, gold, guns. During the May balloting, intimidation by partisan thugs was reported to be minimal, and voter turnout broke records in many areas. A watchdog Commission on Elections kept campaign spending in line, and there were few reports of outright ballot buying, which had been prevalent in past elections.

A gun ban, which will stay in effect indefinitely, dampened election-related violence. Most violence appeared to be related to local contests and not to the presidential election.

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The influence of kin and political connections also seemed to be less of a factor, evidenced by the poor showing of some families who had dominated politics in certain areas.

While there were documented cases of fraud - ballot stuffing, tally manipulation, and the like - no conclusive evidence of wide-scale cheating was made public, despite some candidates' zealous attempts to discredit their opponents by accusing them of fraud.

Candidate Miriam Santiago was the first to accuse opponents of fraud. Ms. Santiago, a former judge who had never run for office, ran her campaign for the presidency on a shoe-string budget. Based on unofficial returns, she appeared to taken an early lead. Less than a week after election day, as the ballots were still being tallied and her lead was diminishing, she announced she had evidence of a widespread conspiracy to cheat her of the presidency and called for "people power" protest.

However, she was unable to present convincing evidence to support her allegations and eventually slipped to second place, according to the official tally. But analysts say her prominent showing reflected a move away from traditional politics, because she had neither the machinery nor money once thought necessary to run for highest office.

The hesitant response to Santiago's call for "revolution" similar to the one that brought Mrs. Aquino to power following allegations that Marcos cheated during the 1986 elections, also showed that orderly elections - and not revolution - were the choice of the Filipinos.

"It looked as if the will of the people could be subjugated by a call for mass action, but the Filipino people did not come out and support Santiago - they were not willing to back Santiago's rhetoric unless they were convinced she had evidence," says Mr. Navaro.

Although Santiago called herself a nontraditional politician, many detractors called her "people-power" campaign and three-day hunger strike gimmicks and accused her of trying to make use of the traditional politics she claimed to loath.

"Being a nontraditional politician is not a matter of how you campaign, but a reflection of what you do once you are in office," said Miriam Ongpin, a spokesperson for Santiago.

Ramos also calls himself a nontraditional politician. A career military man, he promises to further programs initiated by Aquino but says he will not be a carbon copy of his mentor and predecessor.

Ramos, who says the 1991 decision of the Philippine Senate to ask US military forces to withdraw from all bases on Philippines soil by the end of 1992 was a mistake, was the candidate supported by the US government, according to Western diplomatic sources.

Ramos recently said he favors allowing the US access to Subic Bay Naval Base and is expected to reopen some level of negotiations with the US government, which could affect the ongoing phase-out of US troops.

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