Early Philippines election results show President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies taking lead

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies appear to have held the top spots as unofficial results of a mid-term Senate election begin to trickle in, signalling broad public backing for the strongman leader.

Key points:

  • The election was billed as a referendum on the controversial leader
  • The massive ballot will decide 18,000 posts nationwide, including half the Senate
  • Full official results are expected to be released within a week

Early results suggested Duterte-backed candidates would take most of the 12 Senate seats available, with just one taken by the opposition side.

A Senate majority would lessen the chance of censure moves and lower house probes against Mr Duterte’s Government and make it easier to pass controversial legislation, such as restoring capital punishment and changing the constitution to introduce federalism, and possibly extend term limits.

People queue up outside a polling precinct to vote in the Philippine midterm elections.

The ballot was billed as a referendum on the mercurial President, with the focus on his bid to boost his influence over an upper house vital to him delivering on his reform agenda.

The Senate is just as crucial to his opponents, traditionally a check on state power and a bulwark against the kind of political dominance that Mr Duterte is building.

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Overall, the massive nationwide ballot will decide 18,000 posts, including more than 200 mayors and governors, half of the 24-seat Senate, and 245 seats in a lower house expected to again be stacked with loyalists to Mr Duterte.

However, late into the night, hours after voting ended, only a small fraction of the tally was available due to problems transmitting results. 

Full official results are expected in four to six days.

The midterms come at a time when the 74-year-old former mayor is seemingly untouchable, with last year’s spiralling inflation now under control and recent polls showing his Senate candidates scoring highly.

His own public approval rating sits at a staggering 81 per cent.

“It’s not the right environment for the opposition. The opposition could have targeted other candidates instead of making the campaign against President Duterte,” said political analyst Dindo Manhit.

“That’s a hard battle. That would’ve been challenging.”

Shopfronts adorned with bright candidate posters and laundry hanging to dry.

Police reported several minor shootings and bombings in notoriously hostile areas on poll day, and said vote-buying was massive, with more than 200 arrests.

Technology was a problem, with hundreds of instances of electronic voting machines malfunctioning and trouble with the election commission’s internet servers.

Mr Duterte’s popularity has helped to insulate him from criticism over his deadly war on drugs, his misogynistic jokes and insults directed at the Catholic Church, and his indifference toward China’s rapid militarisation in the South China Sea.

He looks set to consolidate power further in the latter half of his presidency, having recruited for his candidates a potent surrogate in his daughter and Davao City Mayor, Sara Duterte, in what is being seen as a succession play for the 2022 presidential election.