Monday, November 29, 1999

Philippines` Aquino may not control Congress

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Senator Benigno Aquino, soon to be named Philippine president, will have to negotiate alliances to govern effectively because his Liberal Party will not have a majority in either house of Congress, lawmakers said on Sunday.Aquino has a decisive lead in the presidential election, based on unofficial tallies of Monday's vote, but a hostile House of Representatives and Senate could thwart his policy agenda.Political infighting could also distract him from trying to reduce a fiscal deficit that is expected to be around 300 billion pesos ($6.6 billion) this year, as well as other efforts to reinvigorate the economy.Aquino is likely to see Liberal Party candidates battling outgoing president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the job of Speaker of the House of Representatives and beaten presidential candidate Manny Villar for the Senate presidency."If the opposition controls both houses, it will be difficult for Aquino to push his legislative agenda," re-elected Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said in a radio interview.Defensor Santiago ran on the ticket of Nacionalista Party and said Villar, the party's presidential candidate, would stand for the Senate presidency because he is still a Senator."We have the numbers to get Senator Villar back as Senate President and we have allies in other parties," said Defensor Santiago.With winners declared in 9 of the 12 Senate seats that were open at Monday's vote, analysts estimate Aquino, who will relinquish his Senate seat, can muster support of about 10 Senators in the 24-member chamber.DEFECTIONSPresident Arroyo won a lower house seat in Monday's election, and is widely expected to run for the position of Speaker, the fourth most senior political position in the country.On paper, Arroyo has a solid base with her Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition expected to win close to 110 of the 229 electorate seats. The Liberal Party has around 45 seats, based on election commission counting.There are also 57 seats for party-list groups, which cover sectors such as women, labour, and farmers, in the lower house. A total of 144 seats is needed for a majority.But party allegiances are not rigid in the Philippines and Aquino's strong presidential vote is expected to attract supporters from other parties who want government favour."The Liberal Party is a minority party for now. But the president-elect comes from their ranks so we should not be surprised if its ranks swell in the next few weeks," Gary Olivar, a spokesman for Arroyo, said on Saturday."There are turncoats but we cannot blame them ... This is something we should understand and make allowances for," he said.The Liberal Party candidate to be Speaker is expected to be Feliciano Belmonte, a former speaker who was once a Lakas member.(Writing by John Mair; Editing by Paul Tait)

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