Son of former Philippine dictator takes clear lead in polls for president

Ferdinand Marcos Jr, a former Philippine senator and son of a late dictator, has emerged as the clear favourite in the presidential election, leading by more than 20 points over his closest rival.

Ferdinand Marcos, the son of late dictator, was chosen by 53 per cent of the 2,400 respondents in a Pulse Asia Survey published on Wednesday. 

His running mate, Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, the incumbent president, topped a separate poll for vice president with 45 per cent of responses.

Mr Marcos’ closest rival in the presidential race, Leni Robredo, the current vice president, came in at 20 per cent, with Manila city mayor Francisco Domagoso and former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao getting 8 per cent each.

Respondents in the poll conducted December 1 to 6 were asked whom they would vote for if the elections took place at the time of the survey.

In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately.

Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos Jr greets supporters from inside a vehicle during a motorcade

Credit: ROLEX DELA PENA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The elections to choose a successor to Mr Duterte, who is barred by the constitution from running another term, will take place May 9.

Mr Marcos’ advantage is his appeal among the youth, whom he targets with a sophisticated social media campaign, experts say. 

Many of the younger voters were not born yet when Marcos Sr was in power during a two-decade rule marked by authoritarianism and corruption.

The Marcos family remains one of the country’s most famous dynasties, and despite the historical baggage and past run-ins with the law, they have strong political connections and widespread support in the Ilocos Norte province, where Mr Marcos has held public office.

Several groups have petitioned for Mr Marcos to be disqualified from the elections due to a tax evasion conviction from 1997, when he was vice-governor and then governor of Ilocos Norte. Mr Marcos’ team has dismissed such efforts as propaganda.  

Meanwhile, his mother and former first lady Imelda Marcos was convicted of seven counts of corruption in 2018 and sentenced to 6 to 11 years in prison, but is still free.

Marcos Sr was president from 1965 until 1986, when he was overthrown by a popular uprising.

Imelda Marcos, wife of the late dictator, pictured here in 2010, was sentenced to jail for corruption

Credit: ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

For nine years starting in 1972, he ruled as a dictator under martial law. Thousands of journalists, activists and dissidents were detained and tortured during this period, while independent media outlets were shuttered.

The kleptocratic regime declared bankruptcy in 1983 and received bailout loans from the World Bank to avert a default. Marcos Sr died in exile in 1989.

The Marcos family has repeatedly denied allegations that billions of dollars of state funds were plundered during his rule.

Meanwhile, Mr Marcos has been elected to several public offices, including governor, congressman and leading up to senator, in 2010.

An early lead in the presidential opinion polls does not guarantee a win, political analyst Ramon Casiple told Reuters, as he recalled how Mr Duterte, a late entry into the 2016 presidential race, only started topping surveys a month before the election.

Ms Duterte-Carpio announced last month she was going to run alongside Mr Marcos after weeks of speculation about an alliance between the two powerful families. 

Political dynasties have a long history of controlling the country.

Seventy-four per cent of the House of Representatives members elected in the 2013 Philippine midterm national elections came from political families, according to research by the Australian National University. 

Other experts put the share of dynastic members in public offices at close to 90 per cent.

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