Candidates wind down Philippine election campaign

Candidates finished campaigning for next week`s Philippine national elections Saturday amid a rush to replace faulty software in over 76,000 machines.

Manila, Philippines: Candidates finished campaigning for next week`s Philippine national elections Saturday amid a rush to replace faulty software in more than 76,000 machines that will count the country`s first electronic vote.
Political hopefuls drove in motorcades and held last-minute rallies to win over undecided voters around Manila and in the provinces before official campaigning for Monday`s polls ended at midnight.

More than 17,000 positions from president to municipal councilors will be contested. The country has about 50 million registered voters.

Pre-election surveys show opposition Senator Benigno Aquino III, the son of the country`s democracy icons, has widened his lead over eight other presidential candidates.

"This fight is not yet over," Aquino, who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, told thousands of cheering supporters at his final rally in Manila late Friday. "The people are very hungry for a new leader."

On Saturday, Aquino traveled in a motorcade through his northern home province of Tarlac, where he will cast his vote Monday.

Aquino`s Presidential bid was launched in the wake of an outpouring of sympathy for his family following the August 2009 death of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino.

His father, Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., was assassinated in August 1983 by soldiers moments after stepping off a plane on his return from U.S. exile to organize opposition to dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The killing triggered massive protests that culminated in the "people power" revolt in 1986 that toppled Marcos and installed Corazon Aquino as President.

Aquino`s nearest rivals, ousted President Joseph Estrada and Senator Manuel Villar, the country`s wealthiest politician, also campaigned in motorcades around the Philippine capital.

Estrada, who was impeached, forced to step down amid massive anti-corruption rallies in 2001, and convicted of plunder, was to hold a final rally in Manila`s slum district of Tondo late Saturday.

At a rally late Friday in Tondo, where he grew up in poverty, Villar promised supporters that "win or lose, I will continue to help" millions of Filipino workers overseas and bring back those who want to return home.

Estrada`s spokeswoman, Margaux Salcedo, said the former leader, who was pardoned by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was "very optimistic." "We hope to end the campaign with a bang," she said. "He perceives this election as a way to vindicate himself and the Filipino masses."

Aquino, 50, told reporters earlier he was confident he would win if the people are "allowed to vote and their votes are counted properly." A May 2-3 survey by the respected Social Weather Stations showed Aquino winning support from 42 percent of 2,400 respondents, followed by Estrada with 20 percent and Villar with 19 percent. The survey had a 2 percentage-point margin of error.

However, a computer glitch in the machines to count votes for local officials has fed suspicion of possible high-tech vote-rigging. Memory cards containing software that runs the vote counting machines had to be recalled from all over the country. Some were reconfigured and new ones were imported from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Cesar Flores, Asia-Pacific regional head for the machine supplier, Venezuela-based Smartmatic, said all the memory cards had been reconfigured by late Friday and most have been distributed to more than 76,000 machines nationwide.

He told reporters "massive testing" was being conducted with the machines Saturday. "It`s looking very well, very promising," he said.

Bureau Report

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