Millions of Filipinos lined up in blazing heat to elect a new president in a race whose front-runner is a brash mayor known for his sex jokes, pledges to kill criminals and a promise to end corruption within six months.
Weary of poverty, crime, corruption, and insurgencies in the hinterlands, voters are looking for a radical change at the top, and hope the man to lead it is Rodrigo Duterte, the 71-year-old mayor of the southern city of Davao who has held a lead over rivals in all opinion polls.
An ex-prosecutor, Mr Duterte peppered his campaign speeches with boasts about his Viagra-fueled sexual prowess and jokes about rape.
However, he also successfully tapped into discontent, and voters appear willing to overlook his unashamedly crude language.
“All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you,” Mr Duterte told a huge cheering crowd in his final campaign rally in Manila.
“I have no patience, I have no middle ground, either you kill me or I will kill you idiots.”
Statements such as these have won him the nickname ‘Duterte Harry’, a reference to the Clint Eastwood movie character Dirty Harry.
Yesterday, he arrived at a polling centre in a school in Davao where a throng of journalists and supporters awaited.
Election results are expected today.
Mr Duterte, who has been compared to US Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, has threatened to close down Congress and form a revolutionary government if legislators stonewall his government.
This has alarmed the political establishment, which fears that Mr Duterte will squander the hard-won economic progress under outgoing president Benigno Aquino III.
Mr Aquino has called Mr Duterte a threat to democracy, and likened him to Adolf Hitler.
Besides Mr Duterte, former Interior secretary Mar Roxas, backed by Aquino, and three other candidates are vying to lead one of Asia’s liveliest democracies.
More than 45,000 candidates are contesting 18,000 national, congressional, and local positions in elections that have traditionally been tainted by violence and accusations of cheating, especially in far-flung areas.
At least 15 people were killed in elections-related violence and more than 4,000 arrested for violating a gun ban, according to police.
“Let us show the world that despite our deep passion and support for our candidates, we can hold elections that are peaceful and orderly and reflect the spirit of democracy,” said Mr Aquino, who cast his ballot after standing in line for an hour with other voters in a Manila constituency.
About 55m Filipinos registered to vote in 36,000 voting centres spread across the archipelago of more than 7,100 islands.
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