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Philippines prepares for defining election
Filipinos head to the polls on Monday in what could be a defining election for the country.

While the job of President isn't in contention in this mid-term vote, the result will be a report card on President Benigno Aquino, and point to possible successors.

But after a number of violent incidents during the campaign, the lead-up to the vote may be more important than who wins what seat.

Kesha West spoke to the President's Communications Secretary, Ricky Carandang.
KESHA WEST, PRESENTER: KESHA WEST, PRESENTER: Filipinos head to the polls this week in what could be a defining election for the country.

While the job of president isn't in contention this mid-term vote, the result will provide a report card on the current leader Benigno Aquino.

Of particular interest will be results in the country's south, where president Aquino recently secured a breakthrough by signing a peace deal with Muslim rebels.

Ricky Carandang is communications secretary to president Aquino.

Ricky Carandang, welcome to the program.


KESHA WEST: How much is this midterm election a midterm report card of sorts for president Aquino?

RICKY CARANDANG: Well it is going to be very much a midterm report card for the president. He has gone out there very actively campaigning for his senatorial candidates. In fact his Senatorial slate is called Team Pinoy, which is what people tend to call president Aquino here - Pinoy.

So he's really identified his candidates and asking the public to go out and votes for them if they support what he has been doing for the last three years. So it is going to be very much a judgment on the President.

KESHA WEST: Previous elections in the Philippines have been marred by allegations of vote buying and vote rigging, particularly in the local races. How you can be sure that this kind of behaviour won't undermine this election?

RICKY CARANDANG: Well there's always going to be the complaints about vote buying and irregularities, but one thing that we can say is that if you take a look at the character of the kompelek now, the people in the previous kompelek, under the previous administration have been replaced. So you have a new leadership there. Certainly they're going to be questions, but that's part of the democratic process.

I think on the whole people tend to believe that this election is going to be relatively credible.

KESHA WEST: There's been some criticism that party politics in the Philippines is greatly wanting and that personality and patronage often trumps policy or at least has in the past. Would you agree with that?

RICKY CARANDANG: That's something we're trying to change. Yes, party politics here has not been a very strong facet of Philippine democracy, and it has been to a large extent personality based. Which is why if you take a look at what the president is doing, and certainly he's going out there and saying these are his candidates, to some extent it is personality driven, but there is an extra message being said and that is this is the president's coalition. So the Liberal Party and all the allied parties are being given equal billing as far as when we message out the president's message.

So I think there's an effort right now to try to move towards more party based is politics. But certainly it is a longstanding problem, personality based politics, and we're not going to pretend it hasn't gone away. It’s certainly still there. There are efforts to promote a party and platform more vigorously now than there were say in previous years.

KESHA WEST: We haven't yet seen the same degree of violence that we've seen in previous elections in the Philippines. But there has still been some deadly attacks, mainly in the south of the country. Are you concerned that we might see increasing violence the closer we come to polling day?

RICKY CARANDANG: We're always concerned about that Kesha because there's always some level of violence associated with elections. You know, and you mentioned it, let me give you some hard facts: as of May 7 of this year, we've had 58 cases of reported of election related incidents; this is per the police records. At about May 13, 2010, the last election, there were 130 election related incidents. So we're seeing less than half of that number of violent incidents at least for now.

Now, certainly it is a concern 58 incidents is still too much but we're seeing a significant improvement in the election related issues.

KESHA WEST: Do you think the peace agreement has helped reduce the violence leading up to this election? I know the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a peaceful poll accord ahead of the election. Do you think that’ll hold?

RICKY CARANDANG: I think that's one of the reasons you’re seeing less violence, because the stakeholders in Muslim Mindanao realise they need to have a credible election. That's number one. Number two, I think you're seeing better law enforcement on the Philippine National Police, PNP, and you're see them more vigorously enforce the gun ban and things like that that we have in place during election periods.

So better law enforcement, and a more peaceful situation in Mindanao, the improvements in Mindanao, are all contributing I think to the reduction in election related violence.

KESHA WEST: The Philippines is known for its political dynasties, families that just keep appearing at the ballot box. And this election of course is no exception. The president's cousin, Bam Aquino, is running for a senate seat. Former president Joseph Estrada is running for mayor of Manila, his son is also vying for a Senate seat. Do you think the concentrating power in the hands of a few elite families is something that's concerning?

RICKY CARANDANG: I think concentrating power in the hands of a few elites, whether they be families or groups, is always a concern. That's what we're trying to do here is create more democratic space. We’ve got people from different parties running, some of them, yes, have relations with other people who have been in politics. But I think that's a normal part of any democracy. If you go to any country there are going to be family names that are rather familiar to the voters. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

I think the problem is when the levers of power are too concentrated and too much in control of a small group, then it becomes a problem. But if you're saying that someone who has a last name that happens to be related to someone else who has been in politics, I think just on the basis of that, I don't think you can say that's necessarily a good or a bad thing.

KESHA WEST: Finally, are you confident of a win on May 13th?

RICKY CARANDANG: All the surveys seem to indicate that out of the 12 Senate seats up for grabs in this election we will win neighbour nine and possibly about 10. Again, as you said earlier in this interview, to a large extent this is a referendum on the performance of president Aquino. And if you see his popularity ratings, if you see the things he has done, and if you see the surveys of how well his candidates are doing, I think you're going to see that we're going to win a pretty comfortable majority here.

KESHA WEST: Ricky Carandang, we appreciate your time. Thanks.

RICKY CARANDANG: Thank you Kesha.
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