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The Philippine election could shake up rising tiger's economy

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The Philippines is heading to a presidential election on May 9 that's likely to shape geopolitics in the region and determine whether one of Asia's oldest democracies can sustain its economic turnaround.

[MANILA] The Philippines is heading to a presidential election on May 9 that's likely to shape geopolitics in the region and determine whether one of Asia's oldest democracies can sustain its economic turnaround.

Once Asia's "sick man," the nation of 101 million people has earned World Bank praise as the continent's "rising tiger" under outgoing leader Benigno Aquino III, posting average six-year growth of 6.2 per cent, the fastest since the 1970s. Aquino can't run again because of the nation's six-year term limit.

The May 9 vote appears to be the biggest wild card, and investors are asking whether Mr Aquino's successor can build on his accomplishments and rise above his shortcomings.

Will the next president continue government efforts to curb corruption and counter China's island-building in the South China Sea? Will he tackle Manila's longstanding problem of traffic and strained infrastructure?

Here's everything you need to know about what's at stake.

54.4 million: Number of registered voters this year. 26.3 per cent: The percentage of the Philippine population living in poverty as of the first half of 2015, according to the government.

18,000:  The estimated number of national and local seats being contested in this year's elections. A new president and vice president are chosen separately every 6 years, and about 18,000 local officials are elected every 3 years.

2: Number of women who have served as president-Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Both were swept into power by popular uprisings.

40 per cent: This is the ratio of Philippine legislators who have links to politically connected families, making dynasties a common feature of politics.

95th: The country's ranking in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index for 2015, a deterioration from 85th the previous year.

Meet the presidential contenders.

Rodrigo Duterte: The crime-busting Davao City mayor. A self-confessed womanizer who doesn't mince words about killing criminals-has reaped a groundswell of support with his tough leadership style.

Mr Duterte, 71,  has vowed to ride a jet ski to the nearest disputed island occupied by China in the South China Sea to personally stake the Philippines' claim if its neighbor fails to accept the result of a pending international arbitration ruling in the dispute.

Two weeks before the elections, a senator supporting a rival candidate accused Mr Duterte of failing to declare millions of dollars in bank accounts, which the mayor denied.

Grace Poe: The first-term senator, an adopted daughter of a famous local actor, was left on the steps of a church in central Philippines while still an infant.

The 47-year-old Ms Poe, who won a legal battle questioning her citizenship, has vowed to lower corporate income taxes and encourage companies to end labor contractualization - the practice of terminating workers every five months.

She has also promised to lift constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership in some sectors to encourage investment.

She has ranked second behind Mr Duterte in opinion polls.

Jejomar Binay: The vice president, 73, is trying to win votes by portraying himself as a champion of the poor. Allies of Aquino in the Senate have investigated Mr Binay over claims of corruption-allegations he denies.

He has vowed to defend Philippine sovereignty over the Spratly Islands while improving economic ties with China.

Mr Binay, whose family has ruled the nation's main financial district of Makati City in Manila for three decades, has also promised free medical services and education to the poor. He had ranked third in many opinion polls, but in the latest surveys from Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia he had slipped to fourth.

Mar Roxas: Born wealthy and educated overseas, Mr Aquino's anointed successor has trailed in public opinion polls. The 58-year-old Mr Roxas, who gave up a presidential bid in 2010 to make way for Mr Aquino, wants to continue peace talks with Muslim rebels and build more roads and bridges in the Mindanao region.

He has pledged to sustain economic growth and create more jobs while offering incentives to Filipino migrants to stay home.

Miriam Defensor Santiago: The veteran senator is a 70-year-old former judge who has said she eats death threats for breakfast.

Ms Santiago, who is making a third bid for the presidency, said she is undergoing treatment for lung cancer. She made a name for herself as a young trial judge during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos when she allowed student activists protesting against the late dictator to post bail.

Ms Santiago, who has consistently ranked last in opinion polls, has pledged to build an alternative government capital north of Manila. 

BLOOMBERG