Weary of poverty, crime, corruption and insurgencies in the hinterlands, voters are looking for a radical change at the top, and hope the man to lead it is Rodrigo Duterte, the 71-year-old mayor of the southern city of Davao who has held a lead over rivals in all opinion polls.
An ex-prosecutor, Duterte peppered his campaign speeches with boasts about his Viagra-fueled sexual prowess and jokes about rape. But he also successfully tapped into discontent, and voters appear willing to overlook his unashamedly crude language.
“All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you,” Duterte told a huge cheering crowd Saturday in his final campaign rally in Manila. “I have no patience, I have no middle ground, either you kill me or I will kill you idiots.” Statements such as these have won him the nickname “Duterte Harry,” a reference to the Clint Eastwood movie character “Dirty Harry.”
Yesterday, he arrived at a polling centre in Davao where a throng of journalists and supporters awaited. “I am a candidate for the presidency and almost all of them are my constituents. It is very natural for them to gravitate toward me,” he said.
Voting at most of the 92,509 precincts nationwide started at 6am and ended at 5pm. Voting was extended by an hour in precincts that had opened three or more hours late because of technical or other problems. Election results were not expected for at least 24 hours, perhaps longer.
Duterte, who has been compared to US Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, has threatened to close down Congress and form a revolutionary government if legislators stonewall his government.
This has alarmed the political establishment, which fears that Duterte will squander the hard-won economic progress under outgoing president, Benigno Aquino III.
Aquino has called Duterte a threat to democracy, and likened him to Adolf Hitler.
Besides Duterte, former interior secretary Mar Roxas, backed by Mr Aquino, and three other candidates are vying to lead one of Asia’s liveliest democracies.
More than 45,000 candidates are contesting 18,000 national, congressional and local seat in elections that have traditionally been tainted by violence and accusations of cheating, especially in far-flung rural areas.