Gen. Fidel Ramos deserves the support of all Filipinos as their next president. Only 23.5 percent of those voting wanted him in the job, but he got the biggest plurality. Handing presidential power to such a slim winner over six opponents, without a run-off, leaves much to be desired, but the Philippines congress and courts made clear there is no alternative. His succession to Corazon Aquino on next Tuesday will be the first smooth transition in the country in 26 years and a tribute to her achievement in completing an elected term.
Whether the 64-year-old former general is a good choice is now moot. As head of the constabulary, he enforced the long dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, before changing sides in 1986 to help end it. As defense secretary, he proved stalwart in defending President Aquino against constant plotting and seven armed coup attempts. Small wonder she supported his candidacy.
The fragmentation of the presidential vote and the challenged integrity of the count undermined Mrs. Aquino's greatest gift to her country, legitimacy. The president-elect is a minority Protestant in a Catholic land, and the first career military man elected as Philippines president. He faces stubborn insurgencies, the loss of the largest industry in the form of U.S. bases, and opposition control of the congress and the vice presidency. Electric power is off almost half the time. The support for him expressed by his defeated rival, Eduardo Cojuangco, a protege of the late dictator Marcos, is a healthy precedent that other rivals should emulate.