Mid-term elections in the Philippines: Landslide for President Duterte

Partyforumseasia: Traditionally, the Philippines belong to the democracies with the highest voter turnout. The calculations for the 13 May mid-term elections are expected to be between 75 and 80 %, which would be a dream result in most European countries and a miracle in the US. The first reliable results are out, among them the winners of the twelve Senate seats to be renewed every three years. Running for the Senate needs costly campaigning because the whole archipelago is one constituency. This is why the last three successful candidates for the “magic twelve” needed over 14 million votes, and the top result was nearly 25 million. It is also noteworthy that five of the twelve winners are women.

            Chart from The Inquirer: LINK

With this year’s outcome, the opposition in the 24 seat Senate is down to four, which means that the President will have all it needs to push through his agenda, including changes of the constitution. In the presidential system of the Philippines, a former US colony, the winner takes all principle is more than visible. Since the President controls the budget distribution, politicians and parties are easily “convinced” to join his or her ranks. Nonexistent membership fees and donations from businesses cannot meet the funding needs of the political parties, on the contrary, politicians, “Pols” in the popular lingo, are expected to contribute to their constituency and their voters in a rather personalized way. This, on the other hand, makes it necessary for incumbents and challengers to provide sufficient funding. Re-elected Senator Cynthia Villar, for example, the top performer with nearly 25 million votes,  happens to be the wife of a property developer on top of the national Forbes list. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

Among the prominent losers, but with respectable millions of votes as well, are candidates from the big political families like Aquino, Roxas, Estrada, and Osmena. The opposition, especially the Liberal Party, which had prospered under President Noynoy Aquino before Duterte, has been practically wiped out.

Since 2010, the Philippines are rather advanced with the vote counting automation, like only a handful of countries worldwide. The ballot papers are being read by automatic counting machines. The results are printed out and electronically transmitted to the “Board of Canvassers”. From more than 90,000 machines, a few hundred failed, and complaints about fraud and irregularities are common. According to National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde, 441 people have been arrested for vote buying. Interestingly, he blames the vote buying on the “incorruptible” vote counting machines, because the more traditional ballot manipulations, often during “power failures” after the polling stations had closed, are no longer possible. The Philippines, though, are in numerous bad company throughout Southeast Asia, where money politics and vote buying are common.

Apart from the Senate, 245 Members of Parliament and 18,072 local representatives in the municipalities had to be elected.

Altogether, President Duterte, heavily criticized for his war on drugs by the international media, has won a landslide victory, or “avalanche victory” in the Philippino media. On his home turf, Davao City, his three children have won municipal mandates. Duterte’s strong man image has convinced a majority of voters, maybe a bad omen for democratically minded people all over the world who prefer a more deliberative and consultative style of government. But we seem to have entered an era of strongman- and brinkmanship.


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