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Philippine President Arroyo Wins Election to Full Term

Leader's supporters hope vote will give her legitimacy. Opponents claim widespread fraud.

June 21, 2004|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who took over as president three years ago with the ouster of President Joseph Estrada, won election Sunday to a full six-year term as the country's laborious vote count came to an end.

A congressional committee that oversaw the canvassing of votes from the May 10 election announced that Arroyo had defeated her closest rival, actor Fernando Poe Jr., by more than a million votes.

"This has been the most contentious canvassing perhaps in Philippine history," House Speaker Jose de Venecia said. "I think tonight, the nation can sleep."

Poe's backers, however, charged that Arroyo's victory was the result of massive fraud during the vote count and accused the election committee of ignoring widespread evidence of cheating. They contend that Poe should have won election by nearly a million votes.

"A heavy blow has been dealt our democracy," said a statement issued by Poe's campaign organization. "What the majority in Congress has done is abort the truth in the womb of our sacred electoral process."

Arroyo commands majority support in Congress, which is scheduled to ratify the results this week. The daughter of former President Diosdado Macapagal, Arroyo will be sworn in by June 30.

Arroyo was serving as vice president in 2001 when Estrada was forced from office by massive "people power" protests and the defection of his top military commanders.

Estrada, who has been in detention since his ouster, contends that he remains the rightful president.

Supporters hoped that Arroyo's winning election in her own right would confer the legitimacy that had eluded her during her first term.

But Poe, a close friend of Estrada's, appeared unwilling to concede defeat, and allegations of vote fraud may continue to dog her presidency.

Soldiers and police were on high alert in the capital, Manila, where attempted coups and street protests have been a common tactic by opposition forces over the last two decades.

Critics said the lengthy manual vote-counting process was susceptible to widespread fraud. At one point, lawyers monitoring the canvassing on behalf of Poe's campaign walked out in protest, contending that they were denied the opportunity to present evidence of cheating.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, an opposition leader, called the electoral process "a national disgrace."

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