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Arroyo set to keep power in Philippine vote

Filipinos vote Monday in a midterm election expected to dash opposition hopes of impeaching President Gloria Arroyo.

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At first glance, Monday's midterm election in the Philippines has a familiar look. An unpopular president, whose father occupied the same office, avoids the spotlight as her party tries to hold onto a congressional majority. Troops fight Islamic militants in a disputed territory as part of the global war on terror.

But unlike her US counterpart, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo seems set to retain her grip on the lower house, defying opponents who vowed to try again to impeach her after two failed efforts.

An administration victory would set the stage for Ms. Arroyo, an economist and staunch US ally, to rule until 2010, becoming the longest-serving president since strongman Ferdinand Marcos was toppled in 1996. Since then, presidents have been limited to a single six-year term, but then-vice president Arroyo served from 2001-2004 after her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, left office in disgrace.

Across the Philippines, nearly 18,000 positions are being decided by up to 45 million registered voters, ranging from local municipal seats to national senators.

Half of the 24-member Senate is up for grabs, along with the entire House of Representatives. But opposition efforts to cast the vote as a referendum on Arroyo's legitimacy have floundered. Polls point to an opposition-dominated Senate and a pro-Arroyo House, an outcome that would bury any revived impeachment bid over alleged vote-rigging in the 2004 presidential election.

Local issues trump national politics

One reason for the opposition's frustration, say analysts, is that local issues and personalities take precedent over national politicking, allowing Arroyo's coalition to ride out her low poll numbers. Entrenched regional dynasties means that victory usually depends on which coalition has the local muscle to win. As political parties are weak, rudderless, and fluid, powerful families provide the glue for national alliances.

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