Manila: Voting was underway in the Philippines today to elect a new president, with anti-establishment firebrand Rodrigo Duterte the shock favourite after an incendiary campaign in which he vowed to butcher criminals.
Polls opened at 6:00am (local time) and voting was to continue until 5:00pm, election officials said.
Duterte, the longtime mayor of the southern city of Davao, has held a commanding lead over other presidential rivals in recent surveys as he hypnotised millions with profanity-laced tirades promising brutal but quick solutions to the nation's twin plagues of crime and poverty.
He has rocked the political establishment with cuss-filled vows to kill tens of thousands of criminals, threats to establish one-man rule if lawmakers disobey him, and promises to embrace communist rebels.
However Duterte's critics have warned he will plunge the country into another dark period of dictatorship and turmoil, three decades after a "People Power" revolution ended the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Departing President Benigno Aquino, whose mother led the democracy movement that ousted Marcos then led the nation for six years, has warned repeatedly the nation is at risk of succumbing to another dictatorship.
Aquino, who is limited by the constitution to a single term of six years, has overseen average annual economic growth of six percent and won international plaudits for trying to tackle corruption.
However his critics say he has done little to change an economic model that favours an extraordinarily small number of families that control nearly all key industries, and has led to one of Asia's biggest rich-poor divides.
His handpicked successor, former interior secretary and fellow Liberal Party stalwart Mar Roxas, also a scion of a prominent political family, is tied in second place, behind Duterte in surveys.
Senator Grace Poe, the adopted daughter of a late movie star, is in equal second place, having seen her popularity slide after critics pointed to her taking US citizenship then later giving it up.
In an intriguing sub-plot, Marcos's son and namesake is equal favourite to be elected vice president, which would cement a remarkable political comeback for his family.
The fierce presidential contest has further contributed to political tensions in a country where cheating and election violence are a recurring problem.
The police have reported 15 dead in confirmed election-related violence this year although many others have been killed or hurt in incidents that are merely suspected of being linked to politics.