By Karen Lema
MANILA (Reuters) - The son of late Philippines strongman Ferdinand Marcos has emerged as the person to beat in the 2022 presidential race, after President Rodrigo Duterte's popular daughter decided not to contest the country's top job.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. likely benefited the most from Davao city mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio's move to run for vice president, against the wishes of her supporters, despite leading polls for preferred presidential contenders all throughout the year.
Duterte-Carpio announced on Tuesday she would be Marcos' running mate.
"Without the popular Duterte-Carpio in the presidential race, Marcos is frontrunner, with 60% odds of victory, though there is a long road ahead," the Eurasia Group consultancy said in a note to clients late on Monday, after nominations closed.
While Marcos's candidacy has angered victims of his father's brutal era of martial law, a survey by the Social Weather Station (SWS) in October showed he could easily beat his rivals, including boxing hero Manny Pacquiao.
Of the six key candidates confirmed to run for president at the time the poll was conducted, 47% of the 1,200 surveyed by SWS said they would vote for the 64-year-old Marcos, popularly known as "Bongbong" or "BBM".
"The only explanation there is he got the pro-Sara voters. There is very close affinity between BBM voters and Sara's voters," said political analyst Temario Rivera.
The election to choose a successor to Duterte will be held in May next year. He himself is not eligible to contest for the presidency again after his single six-year term but will be standing in the election for a senator's seat.
Marcos is the only son of the late dictator who ruled the Philippines for almost two decades until his 1986 overthrow. He said he wants Duterte-Carpio to be his running mate, but she has yet to accept.
Marcos's family is among the country's most famous dynasties and despite its fall from grace, has retained far-reaching and powerful connections.
Marcos, the dictator, died in exile in 1989 after fleeing the country following the "people power" revolution. Since the family's return, Marcos junior has been elected governor, congressman, and in 2010, as a senator. His sister is a senator and a former governor, and his mother, Imelda Marcos, was elected to Congress for four terms.
"In a country whereby political memories are quite short and forgiveness is not in short supply, this is definitely working in favour of the Marcoses," said Richard Heydarian, an author, columnist and academic who specialises in politics.
Working to his advantage, political analysts also say, is Marcos's strong social media presence aimed at targeting the youth, who make up a third of eligible voters. Many of them were not born when Marcos senior was in power.
Marcos will benefit also from the tie-up with Duterte-Carpio, tapping her family's huge popularity in the south, a region where the Marcos family has struggled to make inroads in national elections.
The poll results showed the other presidential candidates far adrift, with incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo with 18%, and Manila mayor Francisco Domagoso on 13%, followed by Pacquiao with 9%.
The poll did not include Christopher "Bong" Go, President Duterte's closest aide, who only joined the presidential race on Saturday, and analysts say his entry, which is backed by the popular firebrand leader, could dilute some of Marcos's support.
Marcos is also facing a disqualification case grounded on a two-decade old tax evasion conviction, which Eurasia said the president could "weaponise if he turns against his ally."
It was not immediately clear late on Tuesday if Duterte-Carpio's alliance with Marcos had her father's blessing.
The race could narrow too, if Marcos's rivals unite behind a single "stop-Marcos" candidate in the race, Eurasia said.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)