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Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of late dictator in stunning victory. A previously unthinkable return to power of the Marcos family, 36 years after its humiliating retreat into exile.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late Philippines dictator of the same name, is on track to be the country’s next president, 36 years after protesters drove his father from office.

As Filipinos woke on Tuesday, preliminary results showed Mr. Marcos, known as Bongbong, with more than 30 million votes, more than double the total of rival Leni Robredo, the current vice-president.

Speaking after polls closed, Mr. Marcos thanked those who “have been with us on this long and difficult journey.”

“Any endeavour as large as this does not involve one person, it involves very, very many people working in very, very many different ways,” he said.

His victory caps one of the most remarkable resurrections in Southeast Asian political history, one that seemed impossible when, in 1986, Bongbong joined the rest of the Marcos clan in exile in Hawaii, driven from the Philippines by the People Power Revolution.

Mr. Marcos has benefited from a decades-long campaign to reshape the narrative around his father, casting him not as a brutal dictator and – along with his wife, Imelda – icon of kleptocracy, but instead as a patriotic hero who oversaw a period of economic stability and growth for the Philippines. Amid COVID-19 struggles and stagnation, many voters hoped to see a return to this mythical golden era.

He was also boosted by the endorsement of President Rodrigo Duterte – who is limited to one term in office – and his daughter Sara, who ran for the separately elected position of vice-president rather than challenging Mr. Marcos for the top job. Preliminary results showed the popular Ms. Duterte winning easily.

“That decision was monumental,” Edwin Lacierda, who was a presidential spokesman in the Benigno Aquino administration, said of the Duterte-Marcos alliance. “Their only message was unity, and it connected with people who wanted the country to get back together after COVID, wanted leaders to work together.”

Despite polls consistently showing Mr. Marcos winning easily, opponents mounted a fierce campaign against him, with victims of his father’s dictatorship in particular appalled at the idea of the family returning to power.

Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan, a human-rights group founded by former anti-Marcos protesters, said Bongbong “has not only refused to publicly acknowledge the crimes of his father and his family’s role as direct beneficiaries of such crimes, he has whitewashed, even legitimized, the atrocities of his father’s dictatorship.”

Of the Philippines’ more than 65 million eligible voters, around 56 per cent are under 41, according to the national Commission on Elections.

As well, some 40 per cent of the country’s people say they get most of their news through Facebook or other social platforms.

Rappler, an independent publication that has frequently been a target of Mr. Duterte, has documented how the Marcos family used social media to improve its image.

This has ranged from straightforward denial of atrocities to wild claims about a supposed stash of gold, hidden by the late dictator, that could help revive the Philippines economy.

In a speech while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize last year, Rappler founder Maria Ressa said Mr. Marcos has “built an extensive disinformation network” that is “literally changing history in front of our eyes.”

That campaign appears to have been effective. With Mr. Marcos now almost certain to be confirmed as president later this month, attention will turn to how he intends to govern.

Mr. Marcos gave little indication of this during the campaign, his messaging short on policies and big on sentiment, promising “unity” and national rejuvenation. Most expect him to continue Mr. Duterte’s controversial and bloody drug war and shield the current president from any future prosecution by the International Criminal Court, which is examining extrajudicial killings.

Analysts also expect Mr. Marcos to maintain Mr. Duterte’s shift toward China and away from Manila’s traditional ally, the United States.

The Philippines won an historic international judgment against Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea in 2016, but after Mr. Duterte came to power months later, he largely declined to press the issue, although he has occasionally flip-flopped in response to waves of anti-Chinese public opinion.

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