Philippines may hold plebiscite in January
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Philippines may hold plebiscite in January

Holding a plebiscite needs the support of 12 per cent of the country's 40 million registered voters.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2006 13:47 IST

The Philippines could hold a plebiscite in January on changing to a parliamentary form of government if the Supreme Court upholds the plan, one of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's closest associates said on Monday.

If the change is approved in the plebiscite, the country's first elections to a unicameral parliament should be held later in the year, House of Representatives Speaker Jose de Venecia told reporters.

The Philippines has been following a US-style presidential form of government since independence from the United States in 1946, but the system has pitted the House against the Senate and the legislature against the executive, de Venecia said.

Government policies have been entangled for years in the legislature.

"Right now, we have a democracy of deadlock," de Venecia said.

"If we can achieve this (change), the Philippines can become a second world society in seven years and a first world nation in 20-25 years."

Holding a plebiscite needs the support of 12 per cent of the country's 40 million registered voters, and de Venecia said a campaign for Constitution, or charter, change had 6.4 million verified signatures.

All 15 judges of the Supreme Court begin hearing arguments on Tuesday on the legality of the signature campaign. A verdict is expected within a month or so, de Venecia said.

If the court supports the move, it can direct the holding of a plebiscite within 60 or 90 days, after a campaign period.

It has rejected a similar signature campaign in 1997, but de Venecia said he was hopeful the move for charter change, or "cha-cha" as it known, would succeed this time.

Under the plan, the Philippines will have a French-style form of government for three years, with the president and a prime minister sharing power, but will shift to a full-fledged Westminster form of parliamentary government in 2010, de Venecia said.

Critics say the change is an attempt by Arroyo to divert attention from her shortcomings and to remain in power after 2010, when her term as president ends. She is barred from seeking another term, but only as president.

Arroyo has survived two impeachment attempts and many alleged plots to overthrow her government, some by disaffected soldiers.

The army has been involved in at least two dozen coup attempts in the Philippines, and in people power uprisings that led to the ouster of two presidents.

De Venecia said Arroyo had the support of the military, but troops could get frustrated with a hamstrung administration.

"If armed forces see this constant deadlock and gridlock, there will be temptations for them to reconsider their options," he said.

"But I am not encouraging this. The whole world frowns on martial law and military dictatorship."

First Published: Sep 25, 2006 13:47 IST