President Ferdinand E. Marcos' ruling party agreed today to delay presidential elections in a move the opposition hailed as a significant concession to U.S. demands for a free and fair vote.
The agreement to delay the proposed Jan. 17 election until late January or early February was reached during the first formal conference on the polls between negotiators for the ruling New Society Party, or KBL, and the opposition, KBL officials said.
No date was announced, but opposition leaders said it will give them more time to organize their campaign and ensure that electoral safeguards are implemented.
Marcos, 68, addressed officers of the Bureau of Posts in a televised palace ceremony today and vowed that the elections will be "orderly, clean and honest." He added that he is not expecting "an easy battle."
"I always run scared," he said. "I will campaign as if I am the underdog."
'Agreed It's Too Tight'
Political Affairs Minister Leonardo Perez said negotiators for the ruling party and the opposition agreed during a 90-minute conference to delay the Jan. 17 election till either the last week of January or the first week of February.
"We agreed it's too tight," said Deputy Prime Minister Jose Rono, who headed the KBL team and later consulted with Marcos on the talks.
"It's a significant victory," opposition Member of Parliament Homobono Adaza said. "It's more a result of American pressure than from the opposition. On the significant issues, it's pressure from the outside."
Adaza said the delay will allow more negotiations on other issues, including the constitutionality of Marcos' call for elections despite his refusal to vacate the office before the polls. Marcos has agreed to resign after a winner is declared.
Since Marcos called for the elections 18 months before his six-year term expires in 1987, U.S. officials have warned that unfair voting could represent a "major setback" to efforts to defuse social unrest.
'Vote for Change' Seen
Former Sen. Salvador Laurel, 56, a leading presidential aspirant, predicted that "the people will vote for a change."
Laurel returned from a trip to the United States on Wednesday and began talks with Corazon Aquino, 52, widow of slain opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr., amid speculation that they will form a joint ticket.
Marcos, who granted pay increases to the country's 19,399 postal workers ranging from 10% to 25%, salary bonuses and increased allowances, will fly Friday to the third-largest city of Cebu, an opposition stronghold.
The trip will be his second campaign swing since calling early, or "snap," presidential elections two weeks ago amid sharp criticism from Washington of his handling of a growing communist insurgency that could threaten two major U.S. military bases in the former American colony.