MANILA (Reuters) – Candidates began registering on Thursday for the Philippines’ mid-term elections in May 2019, seen by political experts as a referendum on President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, as the poll body warned against turning the exercise into a circus.
Nearly 320 seats in the two-chamber legislature and more than 17,000 local government positions, from 81 provincial governors to more than 1,500 municipal councilors, will be contested nationwide.
The Commission on Elections, which supervises balloting every three years wanted candidates to register six months before the May 13 polls because it will have to print more than 60 million ballots, said spokesman James Jimenez.
“The goal of our preparations now is to make sure that the filing is dignified,” he said. “We don’t want to turn it into a circus of supporters.”
Some of the candidates who came early to the poll agency’s office, were accompanied by noisy, card-carrying supporters wearing the political party’s colors. One candidate brought a brass band.
Wearing a red shirt, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, head of the ruling coalition supporting Duterte, was among the first to file his certificate of candidacy.
“We will only have six to seven candidates,” he told reporters, saying his party which supports Duterte also plans to adopt the incumbent senators belonging to the ruling coalition.
The race for the Senate’s 12 vacant seats is seen as a sort of referendum for Duterte’s presidency, said Earl Parreno of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.
“The mid-term elections will test not only the president’s popularity and strength, but if he can continue to push for his agenda in the second half of his term,” Parreno told Reuters.
“I still doubt whether Duterte’s closest allies will make it because elections in the Philippines are personality-based and the incumbents … have an edge over the newbies.”
He said those who have higher chances of winning are seven sitting senators seeking re-election and six others who want to regain theirs seats.
There are new candidates, like the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and Duterte’s four close allies, including former police chief Ronald dela Rosa and special assistant Christopher Lawrence Go.
Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing By Michael Perry