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

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.


South Korean justice minister resigns during finance probe

Updated 14 October 2019

South Korean justice minister resigns during finance probe

  • Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on President Moon Jae-in
  • The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho for too long

SEOUL: South Korea’s justice minister resigned Monday, citing the political burden of an investigation into alleged financial crimes and academic favors surrounding his family, a scandal that has rocked Seoul’s liberal government and spurred huge protests.

Cho Kuk has denied wrongdoing. But the law professor who for years cultivated an anti-elitist reformist image said he couldn’t remain a government minister while ignoring the pain his family was enduring.

Huge crowds of Cho’s supporters and critics have marched in South Korea’s capital in recent weeks, demonstrating how the months-long saga over Cho has deepened the country’s political divide.

Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on President Moon Jae-in, whose office later said he accepted Cho’s offer.

Cho’s resignation came as state prosecutors continued a criminal investigation into his university professor wife, brother and other relatives over allegations of dubious financial investments, fraud and fake credentials for his daughter that may have helped her enter a top university in Seoul and a medical school in Busan.

“I concluded that I should no longer burden the president and the government with issues surrounding my family,” Cho said in an emailed statement. “I think the time has come that the completion of efforts to reform the prosecution would only be possible if I step down from my position.”

Moon’s liberal Minjoo Party and Cho’s supporters, who occupied streets in front of a Seoul prosecutors office for the fourth-straight weekend Saturday, have claimed the investigation is aimed at intimating Cho, who has pushed for reforms that include curbing the power of prosecutors.

South Korea’s main opposition party called Cho’s resignation offer “too late” and criticized Moon for causing turmoil with a divisive appointment.

In a meeting with senior aides, Moon said he was “very sorry for consequentially creating a lot of conflict between the people” over his hand-picked choice but also praised Cho’s “passion for prosecutorial reform and willingness to calmly withstand various difficulties to get it done.”

Moon had stood firmly by Cho, whom he appointed a month ago despite parliamentary resistance. But the controversy dented the popularity of Moon and his ruling liberal party in recent polls, an alarming development for the liberals ahead of parliamentary elections in April.

The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho for too long. “Is President Moon Jae-in listening to people’s voices only after his and his ruling party’s approval ratings face the danger of a nosedive?” the conservative Liberty Korea Party said in a statement.

In South Korea, prosecutors have exclusive authority to indict and seek warrants for criminal suspects and exercise control over police investigative activities. They can also directly initiate criminal investigations even when there’s no complaint.

Critics say such powers are excessive and have prompted past conservative governments to use the prosecution as a political tool to suppress opponents and carry out vendettas.

The controversy over Cho has struck a nerve in a country facing widening inequality and brutally competitive school environments and has tarnished the image of Moon, who vowed to restore faith in fairness and justice after replacing President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and jailed for corruption.

Recent polls indicate Moon’s popularity has sank to the lowest levels since he took office. In a survey of some 1,000 South Koreans released last Friday by Gallup Korea, 51% of the respondents negatively rated Moon’s performance in state affairs, compared to 43% who said he was doing a good job. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.