Ferdinand Marcos Jr set to triumph in Philippines presidential election | Philippines

Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator, is set to become the Philippines’ next president after taking an unassailable lead in the election, signaling an extraordinary rehabilitation of one of the country’s most notorious political families.

With more than 70% of the votes tabulated, Marcos Jr had more than 23.5m, far ahead of his closest rival, the current vice-president, Leni Robredo, a former human rights lawyer, who had 11.1m. The size of his lead means a comeback by his opponents is not possible.

In a late-night address from his campaign headquarters in Manila, he thanked volunteers for months of “sacrifices and work” but stopped short of claiming victory. “Let’s wait until it’s very clear, until the count reaches a hundred percent then we can celebrate,” he said.

Marcos Jr, 64, ran with the message “together we shall rise again”, invoking nostalgia for his father’s authoritarian regime, which the family and its supporters have portrayed as a golden era in a campaign fueled by online disinformation.

Social media has been flooded with false stories about the rule of Marcos Sr, which have swept aside atrocities and corruption that were widespread during the period.

Such portrayals have horrified survivors of Marcos Sr’s brutal regime. Thousands of political opponents were tortured, arrested and disappeared under his rule, while as much as $10bn was plundered.

Marcos Sr was ousted by the People Power revolution in 1986, when the family was humiliatingly airlifted from the presidential palace by helicopter, and fled into exile.

Ever since, say analysts, the Marcoses have sought to rebrand their name and regain their place in politics. “The disinformation infrastructure has been there for a long time. It’s not as if it just sprouted during this campaign. The Marses’ plan to reach the presidency has been in action for decades,” said Aries Arugay, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yof Ishak Institute, who is based in Manila.

Marcos Jr had maintained a clear lead over his opponents in surveys conducted in the run-up to the vote, including Robredo, who ranked second. A former human rights lawyer who has advocated for marginalized groups, she campaigned on a promise of good governance and an end to corruption.

People began lining up to vote before polling centers opened at 6am local time (2300 BST) on Monday morning, and some waited more than four hours in the heat. The vote follows three months of fierce campaigning, in which 2 million Robredo volunteers launched an first door-to-door campaign to try to win over voters and counter the onslaught of online disinformation.

Although Marcos Jr has denied the presence of any organized online campaign, he was the overwhelming beneficiary of false claims circulating on social media. While Robredo and Marcos were subjects of false claims, disinformation about Robredo has been overwhelmingly negative. Disinformation spread about Marcos and his family was overwhelmingly designed to enhance his image.

Leni Robredo queues as she waits to vote in Magarao, Camarines Sur. Photograph: Lisa Marie David/Reuters

Marcos Jr’s candidacy has polarized opinion. At Santa Ana elementary school, in a residential area of ​​Manila, which opened as a polling station, Raquel Deguzaman, 59, said she supported Marcos Jr and did not believe the family was corrupt. “[Marcos Sr] was able to help the Philippines. He’s really good,” she said, adding that he had built infrastructure, including hospitals.

Marcos ran in tandem with Sara Duterte, who is vying for the vice-presidency. She also had a formidable lead with more than 23.3m votes in the unofficial count from the commission on elections’ server. The president and vice-president are elected separately in the Philippines.

Cleo Anne A Calimbahin, an associate professor of political science at De La Salle University Manila, said the results should not come as a surprise but that they were sobering. They reflected in part a growing frustration among the public with previous administrations.

“I think this is a response of a public that saw the lack of progress made since 1986,” said Calimbahin, referencing the People Power revolution that put the Philippines on the road to democracy, a process that has not been linear.

“Unfortunately the reforms agenda and its inability to deliver since 1986 has made people even wary of reformist candidates,” said Calimbahin.

Marcos Jr has avoided TV debates and challenging media interviews ahead of the election, and his campaign has been thin on policy detail.

The election winner will take office on 30 June for a single, six-year term.

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