MANILA — Philippine citizens turned out in record numbers Monday in what both President Corazon Aquino and her opponents agreed was the country's most peaceful and orderly national election in more than two decades.
Sketchy and unofficial returns today indicated that most of Aquino's 24 pro-administration candidates for a new national Senate were leading over two opposition coalition slates, one led by popular right-wing leader Juan Ponce Enrile and the other by prominent political leftists.
As state-run television and one independent radio station began reporting this morning that Aquino's candidates were winning all but one of the Senate seats, the Grand Alliance for Democracy, Enrile's party, charging election irregularities, declared: "There has been a failure of elections, and there is no moral basis for the Aquino administration to claim any victory."
The opposition party charged "that the minds of our people are being systematically conditioned to accept . . . a total or near-total opposition shutout."
Enrile, stung by unofficial returns showing him trailing in his home province of Cagayan, said: "I think people of this country know and will realize that they have been had."
A spokesman for his party said that none of the candidates, even if they won, would accept seats in the Congress under these conditions.
National Election Commissioner Ramon Felipe said Monday evening that the winning candidates will not be officially proclaimed for at least a week. Schoolteachers and election officials nationwide labored through the night and into today, manually tabulating the more than 20 million handwritten ballots for a Senate elected at large and for 200 locally elected House seats.
At least 20 people were killed in election-related violence during the polling Monday, military authorities said. There were also several isolated reports of fraud, vote-buying and other election irregularities, including the disappearance of more than 200,000 ballots in Enrile's home province.
Felipe confirmed the irregularities but also concluded that it was one of the cleanest elections in Philippine history.
Felipe said voter turnout reached 90%, and as early as Monday night, most political analysts and Aquino herself were proclaiming that the national legislative elections were a major political victory for the president.
"We deserve to be congratulated for our political maturity," Aquino said in a statement read to reporters by her press secretary, Teodoro Benigno Jr., after the polls closed.
Declaring the voting the "most peaceful and honest elections in our recent history, not just since martial law, but perhaps since independence (in 1946)," Aquino added, "Democracy was worth the long wait and the painful struggle."
Emmanuel Pelaez, the Philippine ambassador to the United States, added, "I think democracy is really back. . . . We can tell the world we have working democracy in the Philippines."
Sharp Contrast in Voting
Aquino called for the legislative elections after she dissolved a national Parliament still loyal to deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos last March. And Monday's polling stood in sharp contrast to last year's presidential contest between Aquino and Marcos, during which soldiers fired machine guns at nuns guarding ballot boxes, political thugs stole tens of thousands of ballots and millions of voters were deliberately disenfranchised.
Marcos kept his nation under martial law from 1972 until 1981, and he stage-managed every major process in the country, including elections, until his nation rebelled against him.
Marcos, who has lived in exile in Hawaii since he was deposed in a church-backed military coup two weeks after the February, 1986, election, continued to be a force in Monday's poll, with dozens of his former Cabinet ministers and regional bosses running for House and Senate seats.
Violence Called Minor
There were isolated incidents of violence in those districts, but Election Commissioner Felipe concluded in a press conference after the polls closed, "Generally speaking, the elections were orderly and peaceful."
Jose Concepcion, Aquino's Cabinet secretary for trade and industry and one of her closest personal advisers, spent the day touring Manila districts where irregularities were reported and concluded that most of the charges of fraud were either minor or false.
"It's still possible that you have pockets of warlordism, and there you'll find some trouble," Concepcion said as he was touring a slum district where the political left accused Aquino's sister-in-law, Tessie Aquino Oreta, of cheating.
A Festive Atmosphere
"But, overall, you have a very festive atmosphere at work here," Concepcion added. "No longer is the voter just herded into the polling booth. That's real democracy at work."