An independent polling firm on Tuesday forecast a comfortable win in the Philippine presidential election for incumbent Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, prompting Filipino and foreign analysts to agree that Arroyo had secured an electoral mandate.
The polling firm, Social Weather Stations, projected Arroyo as the winner with 41 percent of the vote, compared with 32 for her closest rival, Fernando Poe Jr. The firm, which correctly predicted the outcome of the last two presidential elections here, said 81.5 percent of 43 million registered voters went to the polls on Monday. It based its projection on a national sample of 4,627 voters.
The official tally is expected to take about a month.
"Everyone must continue to be vigilant until the last vote is counted," Arroyo said in brief remarks. "To me, the important thing now is we must leave behind the rancor that unfortunately characterized the campaign and work for peace and unity among the Filipino people."
Rather than concede defeat, Poe asserted at a news conference that he was ahead and that election irregularities that prevented people from voting had skewed the results.
Arroyo must take advantage of her apparent margin of victory to push an agenda of cutting the budget deficit, curbing poverty and corruption and restoring order in this nation of 84 million people, and she must do it swiftly, analysts said.
"If she doesn't turn the economy around in three years, people will start feeling uneasy again," said Raymund Jose Quilop Jr., a political scientist at the University of the Philippines. The president lives in the shadow of a coup attempt last year by a group of disgruntled soldiers backed by politicians.
Arroyo, the 57-year-old daughter of a former president, has pressed the theme of continuity, frequently telling voters that her first three years were a "down payment" and that she needed a full six-year term to deliver the goods. Arroyo was vice president and assumed the presidency in 2001 after Joseph Estrada was forced from office by protests against corruption.
Only about 15 percent of the budget is spent on improving schools, building roads and adding electrical capacity. Islamic and communist militant groups threaten security in many parts of the country.
Analysts have criticized Arroyo for failing to convey a vision for the country, but Scott Harrison, managing director of Pacific Strategies & Assessments Ltd., a risk consulting firm, said she could change that.
"Now she's got the monkey off her back that she's not the 'accidental president.' Maybe she'll have enough confidence to move forward and tackle the fundamental issues," he said.