MANILA — At the conclusion of a notably tedious and convoluted election count, the Philippine Congress on Monday proclaimed Fidel V. Ramos president.
The proclamation by the two houses meeting jointly came exactly six weeks after the May 11 election. Ramos, 64, a retired general and former defense minister, will take over next Tuesday from President Corazon Aquino, who has held office for six years.
Confirmed as vice president was Sen. Joseph Estrada, 55, a former movie star who ran on the ticket of another presidential contender.
The final vote count for Ramos was 5.3 million, or 23.5% of the total. In second place was Miriam Defensor Santiago, a former judge who ran on an anti-graft ticket and trailed Ramos by 874,000 votes.
In arriving at its proclamation, the Congress worked through a complex and painstaking canvassing process, a new procedure designed to prevent the kind of electoral cheating once prevalent in the Philippines. Charges of vote fraud persisted, however, from Santiago and other opponents of Ramos and Estrada.
The West Point-trained Ramos, who ran on the ticket of the hastily formed People Power Party, becomes the first Protestant to govern this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation. And Aquino, who strongly backed Ramos as the administration candidate, will witness this country's first peaceful transfer of power in 26 years.
She became president after a "people power" revolution swept dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos from office in 1986, then saw her popularity plummet amid accusations that she lacked the decisiveness to get the Philippine economy back on track.
Recently, however, she has won praise for completing her six-year term while fighting off numerous attempts to oust her. Presiding over a relatively fraud-free vote was itself an achievement for her.
For the first time in decades, the once-heavily political Philippine military stood back from this election. The Commission on Elections, which used to steal votes for Marcos, now enjoys high credibility.
The Supreme Court appointed by Aquino has exercised independence. The unfettered press--perhaps the freest in Asia but not necessarily the most responsible--has been relentless in criticizing Aquino's failures, particularly her economic ones.
The democracy that Aquino restored after two decades of Marcos rule allowed a multi-party system and "cross-voting," which resulted in a bewildering array of seven candidates fighting for the presidency and, eventually, a president and vice president from different parties.
Estrada was a candidate of the opposition Nationalist People's Coalition.
Earning fewer than a quarter of the votes cast, Ramos has less than a clear mandate, and some expect him to be a weak president as a result.
As a further handicap, Ramos' party won fewer than a third of the seats in the 220-member Congress. But legislators of the Philippine Democratic Struggle Party, which has 40% of the seats, and the Nationalist People's Coalition, which has 30%, have said they will cooperate with the new president.
He has extended hands of friendship to defeated rivals and foes, including former First Lady Imelda Marcos, who placed fifth in the seven-way race.
Ramos has pledged a take-charge presidency. "People are looking for a strong, hands-on kind of leadership," he said in a recent interview. "I don't have all the answers, but certainly we will make sure that the entire new leadership will be organized and motivated to work as a team."