Philippines votes in polls expected to strengthen Duterte

Filipinos began voting in midterm elections highlighted by a showdown between President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies who aim to dominate the Senate and an opposition fighting for check and balance. (AP)
Updated 13 May 2019
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Philippines votes in polls expected to strengthen Duterte

  • More than 18,000 positions are at stake, including half of the seats in the upper house Senate
  • Duterte is known internationally for his foul-mouthed tirades and deadly drug war, but remains hugely popular among Filipinos

MANILA: Filipinos headed to the polls on Monday in a vote that is expected to strengthen President Rodrigo Duterte’s grip on power, opening the way for him to deliver on pledges to restore the death penalty and rewrite the constitution.
More than 18,000 positions are at stake, including half of the seats in the upper house Senate, which has served as a bulwark against some of Duterte’s most controversial policies.
Duterte is known internationally for his foul-mouthed tirades and deadly drug war, but remains hugely popular among Filipinos fed up with the country’s general dysfunction and leaders who have failed to fix it.
He wants to bring back capital punishment for drug-related crimes as part of his narcotics crackdown in which thousands of alleged pushers and users have already been killed by police.
His tough-on-crime platform — which also includes lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 — was key to his landslide election victory in 2016.
Voters crowded voting centers in the capital Manila even ahead of polls opening at 6:00 am (2200 GMT Sunday) in an election where some 61 million are registered to cast ballots.
“I voted for many of the candidates endorsed by President Duterte because his government is doing its job,” said Myrna Cruz, 51.
“I support their programs, including the anti-drug campaign... but I wish the bloodshed would stop,” she adding, echoing many Filipinos’ nuanced backing of the crackdown.
The opening of the polls were accompanied by isolated outbursts of violence, which is not unusual in the Philippines’ frequently bloody competition for elected posts.
At least 20 people have been killed and 24 wounded in election-related violence in the run up to the vote, according to an official count.
Early on Monday nine people were shot and wounded during a confrontation at a polling station on the restive southern island of Jolo, which is home to insurgents and powerful local clans, according to the military.
The violence is more frequent with the lower level races and will not likely be a major feature in the election’s main contest for the Senate.
Winning a Senate majority, something that independent national surveys indicate is well within reach, would give Duterte legislative backing for his anti-crime proposals and his plan to rewrite the constitution.
Historically, the nation’s 24 senators — who serve six-year terms — have had a reputation for being more independent-minded than the lower house.
The opposition warns that could lead to the single-term limit for the presidency being lifted, allowing him to seek re-election despite his repeated statements that he would stand down at the end of his mandate.
It would also allow him to expand his contentious anti-drug crackdown by bringing back the death penalty, a pledge that the UN Human Rights Council said gave it “deep alarm.”
The Philippines outlawed capital punishment in 1987, reinstated it six years later and then abolished it again in 2006.

Duterte, 74, hit the campaign trail to get his supporters in the Senate, giving two-hour speeches at late-night rallies and routinely insulting their opponents — referring to one by an anti-gay slur and accusing another of working for communist guerrillas.
The results for municipal and city mayors and councils are expected within hours of polls closing at 6:00 p.m. Monday, with winners for the Senate and congressional seats likely to be declared from Friday.
Even if the presidential term limit is not lifted, the Duterte family looks well-placed to continue its reign.
The president’s daughter Sara — being eyed by some as the president’s potential successor in the 2022 vote — is running to keep her post as mayor in its southern bailiwick of Davao city.
Her younger brother Sebastian is seeking, unopposed, the city’s vice-mayoral seat, while Duterte’s eldest son Paolo is standing for a seat in the lower House of Representatives.


Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

Updated 26 June 2019
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Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

  • But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues
  • The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reduce heightened trade tension with India on Wednesday, promising a renewed focus on negotiating improved trade and investment ties between the two nations.
But Pompeo, on a visit to India, gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues ranging from access to Indian markets for leading American companies to New Delhi’s demands for foreign firms to store Indian data in the country, and exports of steel and aluminum to the United States.
The two nations are “friends who can help each other all around the world,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar after they met.
The current differences were expressed “in the spirit of friendship,” he added.
The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance.
In particular, the sudden introduction of new e-commerce rules for foreign investors in February angered the Americans because it showed New Delhi was prepared to move the goalposts to hurt two of the largest US companies, discount retailer Walmart, and Amazon.com Inc.
Walmart last year invested $16 billion to buy control of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart.
Just days before Pompeo’s visit, India slapped higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products following Washington’s withdrawal of key trade privileges for New Delhi.
Jaishankar, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, played down the spat on Wednesday.
“If you trade with someone and they are your biggest trading partner, it is impossible you don’t have trade issues,” he said.
India’s ties with Russia and Iran, both now subject to US sanctions, are also a sore point.
US pressure has led India to stop buying oil from Iran, a top energy supplier. The United States has also stepped up pressure on India not to proceed with its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
The missile deal and Iranian oil were both discussed during their meeting, Jaishankar and Pompeo said, but mentioned no resolution of either at the news conference.
Earlier, Pompeo met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks at his official residence in the capital, New Delhi, and they exchanged handshakes in images broadcast on television.
“The Prime Minister expressed his strong commitment to achieve the full potential of bilateral relations in trade and economy, energy, defense, counterterrorism and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Pompeo is expected to round off the trip with a policy speech hosted by the US embassy, before departing on Thursday for a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Japan.