An electoral triumph with a professional social media campaign
For the late dictator’s wife, Imelda Marcos (92), her eldest son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the new president of the Philippines, is close to a reincarnation of her husband. In an interview in 1991, when she and her children were allowed to come back to Manila from their exile in Hawaii, she said: “He sounds like his father. I listen to Bongbong, it’s eerie. Like Ferdinand was there. Even in his mannerisms. His voice. His movements. His hand movements. When he walks. I surely feel Ferdinand the First was born again in Ferdinand the Second.” (Asia Times)
For the generation of Philippinos which ousted Marcos the First in 1986, the feelings of Imelda might be very similar or even the same, only negative and bitter. After the triumph of the people power movement and the widespread euphoria for freedom and democracy, the return to power of the Marcos clan and the resounding victory of Ferdinand the Second, nicknamed Bongbong, must be more than disappointing. Already disappointed with the last few presidents, they fear the worst for the struggling democracy. The triumph with 31 million votes, more than double of challenger Leni Robredo, the outgoing vice-president, was not a surprise, though, because the pollsters were quite accurate this time and had predicted the victory long before election day. There are as usual, allegations of election irregularities but in terms of organisation, counting, and transmission of the local results to Manila, which were outsourced to a private logistics company, the election commission (COMELEC) fares better than the regional average, especially in view of the difficult geography of the archipelago and the social conditions of the poor parts of the population. However, what happens on the ground in constituencies dominated by political families and their influence on “their” voters is a different story. Families and family clans dominate the political scene in many ways, in the regions often enough with private armies, and on the national level with money. Many of the billions plundered by the new president’s late father are still at large, and the protection of these treasures, according to many commentators, will be a central task of Ferdinand the Second in the coming six years. But the extended clan is in a good position. Apart from Ferdinand, eight of his relatives, six Marcoses and two Romualdez, the Imelda clan, have been elected to different positions, while his sister Imee is already a senator. And the cooperation with the clan of outgoing president Duterte, via the latter’s daughter, vice-president elect Sara Duterte-Carpio, is as useful for Marcos as it reflects the importance of family ties and clan structures in the country’s politics.
Bongbong Marcos has been nominated by the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP or Federal Party of the Philippines), one of the younger political parties in the country. Founded in 2018 by supporters of President Duterte, its membership is supposed to be around 1.5 million. As in most countries in the region, the membership of political parties is rather informal in the Philippines, it comes without or with only nominal membership fees and obligations. Do parliamentary or presidential candidates need a political party? That is probably the wrong question, because in all too many situations it works the other way round. The party needs attractive and electable candidates, especially those with deep pockets, and for this crucial quality Ferdinand Bongbong was the ideal candidate. The Marcos family is still being hounded by pending court cases, including outstanding estate taxes, a corruption conviction of mother Imelda, pending on appeal since 2018, and the compensation claims of thousands of victims of the atrocities under martial law during the rule of Ferdinand the First. His son had more than enough money to invest in a sophisticated campaign in the social networks, effectively targeting the younger generations who have no memory of the Marcos dictatorship. With the help of hired influencers and lots of false information the Marcos campaign came up with effective counter-narrative for any accusation and convinced a majority that the son has nothing to do with the sins of his father. One survey found that 72% of voters between 18 and 24 have supported Marcos. But apart from jobs and price control, the main election promise, to unify the country, seems a lot more illusive than realistic. The economic and social fault lines in the country would be a challenge which few would expect the new president to overcome.