South Philippines goes to polls

More than a million people have gone to the polls in the Philippines' autonomous Muslim region of Mindanao, to elect a new governor. 

The area was at the centre of vote-rigging claims last year, which have helped undermine the political standing of President Gloria Arroyo. 

Despite fears of violence the vote was largely peaceful, although there were some reports of attempted fraud. 

The results of the poll are expected by Wednesday. 

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) - one of the poorest regions of the Philippines - was created in 1996 when a peace deal was negotiated after decades of separatist fighting. 

It gave the country's Muslim minority, estimated at up to five million people, a degree of self-rule, with their own political and legal institutions. 

But the agreement failed to produce real autonomy for the island's Muslims, as Manila controlled the flow of funds. The fighting has sporadically continued ever since. 

Thousands of troops were deployed on Monday around the island's polling stations, to ensure the process was fair and to guard against attacks by Islamic radicals. 

Three main contenders 

The people of Mindanao were voting for a governor, vice-governor and district representatives. 

There are nine candidates for the position of governor, with three thought to stand any chance of winning. 

The favourite is Zaldi Dachi Puti Ampatuan, the son of a powerful clan leader who is representing President Arroyo's coalition. 

His two main rivals are Mohid Mutilan, an Egyptian-educated Islamic preacher, and Datu Ibrahim Paglas, who is popular for turning a conflict area into a productive banana plantation. Analysts say the winners will be decided more by blood-ties, money and vote-rigging than by policies needed to pull the region out of poverty and disunity. 

The BBC correspondent in Manila, Sarah Toms, says the elections are also being seen as a test of the central government's ability to hold credible polls. 

Allegations of electoral fraud that have recently shaken the presidency of Gloria Arroyo. 

The claims centre on questions about the results of last year's national elections in parts Mindanao, after her opponents won no votes in some districts.

08/08/2005

Bron : BBC News

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