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Arroyo: I won't run for president in 2004

By CNN Correspondent Maria Ressa

President Arroyo says she would be a divisive force in the election
President Arroyo says she would be a divisive force in the election

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MANILA, Philippines -- Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has announced she will not run for president in 2004, a decision that drastically changes the political landscape for that election.

Arroyo made the announcement Monday in a speech marking a national holiday in the resort town of Baguio.

"If I were to run, it would require a major political effort on my part but since I am one of the principal figures in the divisive national events in the last two or three years our political efforts would result in a never-ending divisiveness," Reuters quotes the President saying.

"My reading of the political winds tells me that the 2004 elections may well go down in history as among our most bitterly contested elections ever," Arroyo said.

"This is because of the deep social and political divisions that we now have."

With her decision not to run, Arroyo said she felt "relieved of the burden of politics."

She added that she intended to devote the last one and a half years of her presidency to strengthening the economy and encouraging business activity "that is unhampered by corruption and red tape in government."

Arroyo's press secretary Ignacio Bunye told CNN that Arroyo made her decision because she wanted to end the divisiveness in the Philippines.

Bunye said Arroyo consulted her family and close advisors before deciding.

In the past few months, Arroyo has battled to hold together a fragile coalition.

Lame duck

Arroyo replaced Joseph Estrada after he was forced to step down
Arroyo replaced Joseph Estrada after he was forced to step down

She has been under intense criticism with recent surveys focusing on her popularity ratings and political parties discussing who their candidates will be in the next election.

Arroyo has never run for president. In January 2001, when she was vice president, Arroyo took office when former President Joseph Estrada stepped down following proceedings about his impeachment. Estrada is now on trial for corruption.

Still, she was the top vote-getter in her races for vice president, garnering the largest percentage of votes of all Philippine politicians of the last 50 years.

Whomever Arroyo anoints as her successor in her political party would carry great clout, but her immediate challenge is continuing in office as a lame-duck president.

Also, all would-be candidates for the 2004 race are untested. The leading contender so far is Fernando Poe, Jr., a well known movie actor like Estrada.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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