Firebrand Philippine city mayor Rodrigo Duterte took a strong lead as early unofficial presidential election results rolled in on Monday, suggesting that the political outsider’s pledges to crush crime and corruption had carried the day.
The rolling vote count by an election commission-accredited watchdog showed, about two hours after polling stations had closed, that Duterte had about 5 million votes and his two nearest rivals were trailing with just under 3 million votes each.
The numbers reported by the Parish Patoral Council for Responsible Voting accounted for about 29 per cent of the 54 million registered Filipino voters.
Duterte’s man-of-the-people demeanour tapped into popular disgust with the political establishment over its failure to tackle poverty and inequality despite several uninterrupted years of robust economic growth.
His incendiary rhetoric and advocacy of extrajudicial killings to stamp out crime and illegal drugs have, however, alarmed many who hear echoes of the Southeast Asian country’s authoritarian past.
The presidential race has been one of the most divisive in years, with outgoing leader Benigno Aquino and rival candidates warning of a disaster if Duterte makes good on his promises.
Duterte’s defiance of political tradition has drawn comparisons with US presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“If we have to go extreme, why not?” said Manila voter Jordan Manalo, 24, as he lined up to cast his vote for Duterte.
“I want someone new, someone who would go beyond the usual.”
Asked by a television interviewer what he thought about his apparent victory, Duterte gave a puzzling answer.
“Sometimes I’m victorious and the winner, sometimes there’s always losing and being sad, sometimes being sick and healthy … that is how the universe is being played every day,” he told CNN Philippines.
At least 11 people were killed in violence before voting started, but otherwise the election was mostly smooth with voting machine problems at only a few dozen polling stations.
Voters also cast ballots for the vice-president, 300 lawmakers and about 18,000 local government officials.
Jostling for office with politicians were business chiefs, celebrities and boxing star Manny Pacquiao, who is running for the Senate.
‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, contested the vice presidency.