Arroyo leads in Manila exit polls

MANILA Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo topped her closest rival by several percentage points in presidential exit polls released early Tuesday by television network ABS-CBN and independent pollster Social Weather Stations.

Arroyo led with 31% of the votes while film actor Fernando Poe, Jr followed with 23%. The results were based on the polling of 528 respondents in Metro Manila. The polls showed Sen Panfilo Lacson with 20%, evangelist Eduardo Villanueva with 10% and former Education Secretary Raul Roco with 8%.

The election on Monday was marred by violence and allegations of fraud. Security was tight across the Southeast Asian nation as voting took place amid concern about attacks by Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida, violence by local warlords and plots to rig the polls.

At least 17 people were reported killed Monday in election-related violence, taking the campaign death toll over 100. There were widespread reports of vote-buying, intimidation and voter registration problems.

Arroyo, 57, a key Asian ally of the United States, has presented herself as a safe pair of hands for the economy and is backed by big business.

The election has largely ignored key issues an underperforming economy and looming debt crisis, Islamic militant terrorism, population growth and decades-old Muslim and Communist insurgencies.

The presidential polls are only the third since dictator Ferdinand Marcos was forced out 18 years ago, and the bitter campaign was marked by allegations of fraud and unsubstantiated accusations of coup plots and looming unrest.

The head of the Catholic church warned of a plot to rig the polls, and the chairman of the independent National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) said his organiztion witnessed many irregularities Monday.

"I went to my district and I saw there were so many problems and these problems, I believe, cover the entire nation," Namfrel chairman Jose Concepcion told reporters.

One of the main complaints was that election officials were slow to deliver voting materials to polling stations in 300,000 precincts. Three remote towns were unable to vote at all, and will hold polls Tuesday.

Election Commission chief Benjamin Abalos, who spent election night in hospital because of fatigue and suspected ulcers, said: "Not everything materialized as we have envisioned."

Max Soliven, publisher of the Philippine Star and a respected commentator, said the polls were the dirtiest on record.

"Almost everybody I have met expects massive cheating and fraud," he wrote in a column Monday.

Police Monday reported the deaths of nine campaign workers. Two died in Manila in a grenade attack and six were killed in ambushes in the southern province of Zamboanga del Norte. One was shot dead in Cebu province.

The security forces also shot dead seven gunmen working as election enforcers on the central island of Masbate. (Wire reports)



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