Manila, May 11: Gunbattles, offers of money and allegations of vote fraud have again marked an election campaign in the Philippines, but for all the drama the country's political make-up looks unlikely to change this year.
At least 45 million people in the country, one of the most free-wheeling democracies in Asia, vote in congressional polls on Monday, but analysts say the Senate and the House of Representatives are unlikely to be much changed.There also appears to be little danger to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has another three years in office, despite opinion polls showing that she is deeply unpopular, they said.
''I think the elections are going to be fairly humdrum,'' said Scott Harrison, managing director of risk analysts Pacific Strategies and Assessments Ltd.
''It will come out with her (Arroyo) in control and if it does, then everyone is going to sit back and say let's get on with it and wait for 2010.'' The one issue at the start of the campaign in February was whether the administration could retain a 2/3rd majority in the House of Representatives, which it needs to defeat any impeachment motion against the president.
Now, even the opposition has admitted it would be hard-pressed to get one-third of the seats in the 275-member house.
''The conventional wisdom suggests the administration, because of its grassroots strength and the power of its purse strings, will probably come out on top,'' said Harrison.
''Also the opposition has not fielded enough candidates for a majority of those contested positions. So even if the overwhelming majority of Filipinos are opposed to Arroyo, they don't have much choice through the vote.'' The last opinion poll on Arroyo had 43 per cent of respondents dissatisfied with her performance against 39 per cent satisfied. And that was the best rating she has had since October 2004.
''Public opinion is strongly negative about the president but her advantage is it hasn't coalesced around any single opponent,'' said Manolo Quezon, a political commentator.
What leading lights in the opposition are doing, analysts say, is to prepare for the next presidential election in 2010.
The elections to 12 seats in the Senate this year will be the testing ground for would-be candidates. Both Arroyo and previous president Joseph Estrada had topped senatorial races before making a run for the presidency.And by concentrating on the Senate, the opposition seems to have left the House to the administration, more or less giving up on any chance of an impeachment.
The opposition has brought motions to impeach against Arroyo in each of the last two years but have failed to raise the numbers to push it through.
The government, on the other hand, is focusing more on the House and local seats, because Arroyo may try to resurrect a move to adopt a parliamentary form of government, analysts say.
The government launched a bid for constitutional change last year, but the move was scuttled by the Supreme Court. Critics have called it Arroyo's attempt to stay in power after 2010, as she is constitutionally barred from running for office again.''The whole focus of the administration has been on the congressional races and on local government,'' said Harrison.
''Their control of grassroots municipal mayorships and city councils are crucial to their plans of a federal approach to the Philippines, which would also be part of the adjunct to a parliamentary system.''
Almost 100 people have been killed in near daily gunbattles during the campaign -- fewer than the 189 people killed in the last election.
As has become normal here, both sides have hurled accusations of vote-buying and intimidation, much of it with good evidence.
Seven out of 10 voters expect vote-buying and half of them think it's okay to accept the cash provided they vote with their conscience, according to a recent survey.
''Every election there is always cheating and vote-buying,'' said Ging de Leon, a 30-year-old unemployed man in a Manila slum.
Asked if there were any honest candidates, he said: ''Well, they're all good at rhetoric and making promises, each one of them.
''They can say all these things, but when it comes to action, nothing usually comes out of it. I still vote of course; I value my rights as a Filipino.''