LAOAG   -   If the son of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos wins the May 9 presidential election, he will not be the only Marcos currently in power -- and will almost certainly not be the last.

Elite families have long ruled the poverty-ravaged nation, holding on to positions of power for generations by dishing out favours, buying votes or resorting to violence.

Analysts say the system has become more pervasive in the decades since a popular uprising deposed Marcos and forced the family into exile. New dynasties have entrenched themselves in politics, smothering electoral competition, stunting economic development and worsening inequality.

“Power begets power -- the more they stay in power, the more they accumulate power, the more powerful they get,” said Julio Teehankee, a professor at De La Salle University in Manila.

The archipelago has produced about 319 dynastic families, dating back to when the country was a US colony in the first half of the 20th century, Teehankee said.

Dozens have withered, but in 2019, members of at least 234 such families won positions in mid-term elections, he said.

They have flourished in a feudal and corrupt democracy where parties are weak, fragmented along clan lines and plagued by defections.

Power, however, is not static. Families can win and lose it -- and make a comeback.

After the fallen dictator died in 1989, the Marcoses returned to their traditional stronghold of Ilocos Norte and began tapping local loyalties to get elected to a succession of higher positions.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr, 64, is now on the verge of clinching the ultimate dynastic victory: the presidency.

The family also wants to make a clean sweep of the top posts in its northern bastion.

Launching their campaigns in the provincial capital Laoag, Marcos candidates stood together in front of a “Team Marcos” sign as thousands of supporters cheered.

Marcos Jr’s eldest son is a first-time candidate, seeking one of two congressional seats in the windswept province of corn and tobacco farms. A cousin is defending the other.

His nephew -- the son of his sister Imee, a senator -- is vying for re-election as governor, while a cousin’s widow is the incumbent vice-governor.

Marcos Jr told AFP the family was not a dynasty, but his cousin Michael Marcos Keon, seeking a second term as Laoag mayor, disagreed.

“This is all dynastic,” said Keon, 67, who also served as governor after Marcos Jr hit the three-term limit -- a tactic often used to keep positions in the family.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I weren’t a Marcos.”