MANILA (Reuters) - Problems with ballot machines on Monday kept some Filipino voters waiting for hours, including the presidential frontrunner, and may have lowered turnout, but there was no sign of widespread failure that would derail the election.
A broadly successful ballot — despite technical problems, shootings and bombings in some remote areas and allegations of vote buying — would be a relief for domestic financial markets that had feared a failed vote above all other outcomes.
That, along with a bounce in global markets on the rescue package for the Euro zone, was likely to lower the risk premium priced into Philippine assets when local markets reopen on Tuesday, with attention turning to the new president and the winner’s plan to cut a large fiscal deficit.
Officials had expected turnout as high as 85 percent, but analysts and election monitors said the actual figure could be much lower as many had given up and gone home without voting.
With widespread technical failure and serious violence not materializing, the main risks now would be a very low turnout figure, or problems with the transmission and collation of results, expected to start on Monday evening.
“Many of the problems experienced thus far were expected, but major voter frustration and disenfranchisement could result in lower than expected turnout and compromise election results,” consultancy Pacific Strategies & Assessments said.
Challenges and unrest are also a risk if the clear frontrunner in opinion polls, Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, does not win the race to succeed Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
“If all goes smoothly and the president is proclaimed on time, I think the market will react positively, said Barclays Capital economist Prakriti Sofat in Singapore.
“However market participants will be keen to hear the strategy of the next government to address fiscal concerns.”
Opinion polls suggest Aquino will be the next president. He had a 20 point lead over former president Joseph Estrada and Senator Manny Villar, with Gilberto Teodoro, candidate of the outgoing administration, a distant fourth.
In a country where some degree of violence and chaos is regarded as normal during elections, most voters took technical hitches in their stride and waited patiently for their turn.
“I prayed for a peaceful election, so our country can move forward. People are sick and tired of the cheating and fraud in the past elections,” 57-year-old voter Danilo Arriola told Reuters Television.
The use of a new and untested automated voting system posed a major risk for the election, and concerns rose following the recall of more than 76,000 memory chips after a fault was found.
Aquino was forced to wait about four hours to vote on a hot and humid day and long queues formed at other ballot stations across the poor Southeast Asian nation as some voting machines malfunctioned and there were problems with voter lists.
But while the glitches caused election commission Comelec to extend voting by an hour to 7 p.m. (7 a.m. ET), they did not appear widespread or serious enough to fatally undermine the polls. Even after 7 p.m., voters who had been within 30 meters (yards) of a polling station were allowed to cast their ballot.
Comelec said if a machine malfunctioned and there was no back-up, people could still complete their voting paper, which would be stored and scanned later by staff at election booths.
“It’s not as widespread as it’s made to appear by some people and what’s important is that these are being replaced,” Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said of the faulty machines.
More than 50 million people were eligible to vote.
The military reported 37 incidents of election day violence, with at least nine dead and 12 wounded. On Monday morning, there was a gunfight in Maguindanao, where 57 people died last November in an election-related massacre.
Television footage showed people fleeing a school polling station in Marawi City on southern Mindanao after two blasts, which police said were probably from a grenade. There were no casualties in the incident.
Comelec said election failure may be declared in parts of Lanao del Sur on Mindanao, and on Basilan island due to violence.
Elsewhere, it said wrong ballots went to parts of Iloilo and Samar provinces, so a special election would be held if needed.
Fighting corruption and reducing poverty were key themes of the election campaign, but candidates were vague on details.
Among the challenges for the new president will be trying to reinvigorate an economy that has fallen behind its Southeast Asian peers, both in terms of growth potential and as an investment destination. Markets also want to see the next president quickly tackle the country’s parlous fiscal position.
“I voted for Noynoy. Let’s see if he can really fulfill his promise to bring change to the Philippines, we are relying on his promises,” said Liza Pascual, a 45-year-old clerk who queued through the morning to vote in Manila.
Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Writing by John Mair; Editing by Andrew Marshall and Jerry Norton