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Philippines: Muslims vote on autonomy

January 21, 2019

A Muslim minority in the southern Philippines is voting in a referendum on the establishment of an autonomous region. The poll is aimed at ending decades of unrest in the predominantly Catholic nation.

A Muslim woman casts her ballot in a referendum at the Marawi Sagonsongan elementary school-turned polling station in Marawi
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Calupitan

Filipino Muslims vote on autonomy

Residents of Muslim regions on the Philippine island of Mindanao headed to the polls on Monday to vote in a long-awaited referendum on autonomy.

More than 2.83 million people were registered to vote in the five provinces and two cities taking part in the plebiscite. A resounding "yes" vote was expected.

The vote is the latest step in a peace effort by the government in Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

"We are confident that 'yes' will win," MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim told the CNN Philippines news channel. "If there is no manipulation, no intimidating, there will be overwhelming approval," he said.

The vote and peace deal is opposed byIslamic State-linked militants operating in the region who, in 2017, led a spectacular siege of the city of Marawi that lasted some five months. The whole of Mindanao has been under martial law since then.

DW correspondent Bastian Hartig, in Cotabato City, said there was widespread enthusiasm for the plan as the vote went ahead, amid fears about possible vote manipulation.

"That goes to show high the tensions and how the mistrust and suspicion is here around this referendum," said Hartig. "Nonetheless it’s very likely to be accepted because it’s only being held in the Muslim dominated areas."

Read more: Can anyone believe what Duterte says?

Philippines: "Ground Zero" in Marawi

Under the terms of the arrangement, the Moro rebels abandoned their goal of an independent state in exchange for broad autonomy in new region, Bangsamoro (Nation of Moros). Security, defense, foreign and monetary policy would be decided by Manila, with a transition authority overseeing more local matters.

Some 30,000 to 40,000 Moro fighters are to be demobilized.

While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte — who hails from Mindanao — has established a reputation as something of a hardliner, he has given the Bangsamoro plan his firm backing. He has long supported the establishment of an autonomous Muslim homeland, and has called the vote a "peaceful means" to correct injustices against the country's Muslim minority.

rc/rt (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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