MANILA— Philippine presidential candidates will hold final election rallies this week as the campaign enters its homestretch, in a contest that has shaped into a two-way race between frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his main rival Leni Robredo.
Marcos, the son and namesake of the ousted dictator who ruled the country for two decades, has a wide lead in polls over the incumbent vice president, Robredo, ahead of the May 9 ballot.
The frontrunner, who on Tuesday held the first of three big rallies this week, appears on the verge of completing a once-unthinkable rebranding of the Marcos family name 36 years after a “people power” uprising ended his father’s rule.
Political analysts say his path towards the presidency has been aided by a decades-long public relations effort to alter public perception of his family, even as critics accuse the Marcoses of attempting to rewrite history.
“I think they (the Marcos campaign) have…the advantage of crafting an appealing narrative, which we know distorts the historical fact and yet has somehow appealed to many voters,” said retired political professor Temario Rivera.
Marcos has pushed a message of unity in his campaign, even as rivals sought to highlight the plundering of the country’s wealth during the harsh authoritarian rule of his late father.
A survey conducted by independent pollster Pulse Asia in mid April showed 56% of 2,400 respondents said they would vote for Marcos if the election was held during that period, while 23% said they would back Robredo.
Former boxing champion, Manny Pacquiao, and Manila mayor, Francisco Domagoso, had 7% and 4% support, respectively. The last day of official campaigning is on Saturday.
Robredo last week challenged Marcos to a debate so voters can scrutinise their characters and visions, but the former senator declined saying he preferred to speak directly to the public.
The two have a bitter rivalry, with Robredo’s affiliation firmly with the movement that took to the streets to topple his father in 1986.
Despite Marcos’s commanding lead, Robredo has attracted tens of thousands of people to her recent campaign rallies, support which some analysts say may not have been fully captured in the latest survey.
“We are feeling confident going into the last week of the campaign,” said Robredo campaign spokesperson Barry Gutierrez.
Marcos, 64, has said he would not let his strong showing in polls distract him from work needed to ensure victory.
Robredo and Marcos will hold rallies in the central Philippines on Tuesday, with the frontrunner due in the province of Iloilo and his rival in Panay island and Bacolod city.
—Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Adrian PortugalEditing by Ed Davies