Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-LakasBayan meeting in Manila on Saturday ahead of the midterm elections on Monday. Photo: AFP

Filipinos vote Monday in midterm elections that are expected to strengthen President Rodrigo Duterte’s grip on power, paving the way for the strongman to restore the death penalty and rewrite the constitution.

Duterte has become infamous around the world for his foul-mouthed tirades but remains massively popular among Filipinos who have had enough of what they see as elitist politicians and a dysfunctional system.

The 73-year-old wants to bring back capital punishment for drug-related crimes as part of a deadly crackdown on narcotics in which thousands of suspects and drug addicts have already been killed.

His draconian position on crime – which also includes lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 – was key to his landslide election victory in 2016.

More than 18,000 posts are at stake when polls open for the more than 61 million registered voters at 6:00 am, including half of the seats in the upper house Senate.

But for Duterte the key is taking control of an independent-minded Senate while keeping the House of Representatives in the hands of his allies.

Historically, the nation’s 24 senators – who serve six-year terms – have had a reputation for being more independent-minded than the lower house.

Winning a Senate majority, something which independent national surveys indicate is well within reach, would give him legislative backing for his anti-crime proposals and his plan to rewrite the constitution.

The opposition warns that it could lead to the single-term limit for the presidency being lifted, allowing Duterte to seek re-election despite his repeated statements that he would stand down at the end of his mandate.

It would also allow him to expand his contentious anti-drug crackdown by bringing back the death penalty, a pledge the UN Human Rights Council said gave it “deep alarm.”

– with reporting by AFP

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