The son of late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos won a landslide presidential election victory on Tuesday, as Filipino voters dismissed warnings his rise could put their fragile democracy at risk.
With more than 90 per cent of an initial count concluded, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Junior had secured almost 30 million votes, more than double the tally of his nearest rival, liberal candidate Leni Robredo.
That unassailable lead spells another astonishing turnaround for the fortunes of the Marcos clan, who have gone from the presidential palace to pariahs and back again in the space of half a century.
In 1986, Marcos senior and notoriously kleptocratic first lady Imelda Marcos were chased into exile by the “People Power” revolution.
Marcos junior’s campaign was marked by a relentless online whitewashing of his family’s brutal and corrupt regime, as well as an embrace of current authoritarian president Rodrigo Duterte, who retains widespread popular support.
Rights activists, Catholic leaders and political analysts had all warned Marcos Jr could rule with an even heavier fist if he wins by a large margin.
Delivering a late-night address from his campaign headquarters in Manila, a tired but beaming Marcos thanked volunteers for months of “sacrifices and work”.
But he stopped short of claiming victory, warning that “the count is not yet done”.
“Let’s wait until it’s very clear, until the count reaches a hundred per cent then we can celebrate.”
Outside, euphoric supporters set off fireworks, waved the national flag and clambered onto parked cars to chant in victory.
Cleve Arguelles, a political science lecturer at Manila’s De La Salle University said it was already clear that “this will be a historic election” for the Philippines.
Robredo, a lawyer and the current vice president, admitted “clear disappointment” about the result.
The 57-year-old had promised to clean up the dirty style of politics that has long plagued the feudal and corrupt democracy, where a handful of surnames hold sway.
In the final weeks before the election, her campaign morphed into a catchall pro-democracy movement that drew almost one million people to a single protest in Manila.
“She has no whiff of corruption allegations,” said 52-year-old Robredo supporter Corazon Bagay. “She’s not a thief. Leni is honest.”
In a televised address in the early hours of Tuesday, Robredo told supporters “nothing has been wasted. We did not fail.”
She indicated that the movement would continue after the final results are announced, a process expected to take weeks.
“We are just getting started,” she said.
Judy Taguiwalo, 72, an anti-Marcos activist who was arrested twice and tortured during the elder Marcos’ regime said the election was “another crossroads” for the country.
“We need to continue to stand up and struggle.”
Analyst Mark Thompson said there should now be soul searching among an opposition that needs to broaden its message beyond “good governance”.
“They need to make clear that they’re going to improve the lives of the average Filipino,” said Thompson, who is director of the Southeast Asia Research Centre at the City University of Hong Kong.
Marcos was able to tap into widespread anger at a string of post-dictatorship governments, which many Filipinos believe had failed to materially improve their lives.
Crucially, he also secured the support of several of the country’s powerful political dynasties, who through networks of patronage can be called on to deliver blocs of votes.
Those alliances were set for a further victory with his running mate Sara Duterte garnering an even bigger lead over rivals in her vice presidential race.
The certified results of both races are not expected for weeks.