Violence and technical glitches with polling machines failed to derail the Philippines presidential election, with frontrunner Benigno Aquino headed for victory according to early results.
Aquino, who held a 2-1 advantage over his closest rivals in a poll last week, earlier had to wait because the voting machine in his precinct malfunctioned. Early reports of problems with ballot machines didn’t translate into the widespread disruption that had been a concern of investors going into the vote.
“As long as there’s a clear winning margin and there’s no dispute about the results from a technical fault, that would be taken as positive by investors,” said Wee-Ming Ting, who helps oversee $11.5 billion of emerging-market debt as Singapore-based head of Asian fixed income at Pictet Asset Management.
The Philippines switched to electronic balloting to reduce the disputes, cheating and violence that accompanied hand- counting. Violence killed at least 10 people in an election that police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said was “generally peaceful” compared with polling in 2007 and 2004.
With 38 percent of 76,000 voting precincts tallied, Aquino had 40 percent compared with 25 percent for former President Joseph Estrada, the Commission on Elections said at 10 p.m. in Manila. Senator Manuel Villar, Aquino’s main rival during most of the campaign, had 14 percent.
Markets were shut for the election day national holiday. The Philippine Stock Exchange Index has gained 4.6 percent this year, against a 6.8 percent drop in the MSCI Asia Ex-Japan Index.
Still, the new president will inherit a government that has run a deficit in all but four of the past 24 years.
The deficit rose to a record 298.5 billion pesos ($6.5 billion) last year and the government says balancing the budget could take until 2016, the end of the incoming president’s term.
Aquino, 50, Villar, 60, and Estrada, 73, have focused on combating poverty in a nation where one in four people live on less than $1.25 a day, according to the World Bank. The Philippines’ $167 billion economy has fallen to 13th in Asia among 17 tracked by Bloomberg.
“We’re slipping from emerging market to frontier market,” said Paul Joseph Garcia, chief investment officer at ING Investment Management Ltd. in Manila. “We’re now being compared to Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Pakistan; we’re not even in the league of our Southeast Asian peers.”
Aquino, 50, who had no plans to stand until the death of his mother and former president Corazon “Cory” Aquino in August, also made a pledge to fight corruption a mainstay of his campaign.
The Philippines ranked 139th out of 180 by Berlin-based graft watchdog Transparency International. Outgoing President Gloria Arroyo has faced three impeachment attempts over allegations of graft, human rights violations and of rigging her 2004 re-election.
She took office after Estrada, a former movie star, was convicted on corruption charges. He was later freed from jail by a presidential pardon.
Aquino has vowed to prosecute Arroyo when she loses presidential immunity. Villar was ousted as Senate president after a fellow member alleged he used his influence to divert a highway so it ran through his property. He has denied any impropriety and the Senate hasn’t voted on the censure motion laid by 12 of the 23 senators, including Aquino.
Aquino was supported by 42 percent in a poll conducted by Social Weather Stations, a Quezon City-based research institution, for BusinessWorld newspaper. Estrada had 20 percent and property tycoon Villar 19 percent in the May 2-3 poll, which had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.
Most of the violence was in the southern part of the country. There are “open hostilities” in the island province of Basilan, Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez told reporters. Police said five people were killed in neighboring Maguindanao and Zamboanga Sibugay provinces on the island of Mindanao, where the U.S. military is assisting in the fight against Muslim and communist rebels.
Five other people were killed in incidents across the rest of the country, Agence France-Presse reported.