Election preview: Philippines

The Philippines goes to the polls today to elect a new president, replacing authoritarian incumbent Rodrigo Duterte (presidents are limited to a single term). Voters will also choose a vice-president (elected separately), members of the House of Representatives and half the Senate, and provincial and local governments.

You can read about the background in this post from last October. There I also explain the awfulness of the electoral system (simple plurality voting for president and other executive positions), noting that “it’s striking how many” recent authoritarian victories “were the product of bad electoral systems,” and that “the Philippines has one of the worst.”

But that’s not the problem this time. The favorite in the presidential race, Ferdinand Marcos Jr (universally known as “Bongbong”), son of the late dictator, has a commanding lead in the opinion polls, consistently polling over 50%. Of his nine opponents, only current vice-president Maria Robredo, a liberal, has made much impression, but she still trails Marcos by some 30 points.

Isko Moreno, the mayor of Manila, looks like taking third place, but may still not reach double figures. Former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, once regarded as a serious contender, has faded to irrelevance, and Bong Go, a long-time sidekick to Duterte, withdrew from the race before Christmas.

There’s equally little uncertainty about the vice-presidency. Presidents do not always succeed in getting their running-mates elected, but Marcos looks like having no difficulty; his deputy will be Sara Duterte-Carpio, mayor of Davao City and daughter of the incumbent president. She too is set to win an absolute majority of the vote, rendering complaints about the electoral system academic.

The Senate voting system is even worse than that for the presidency – block plurality voting for 12 positions, so a single tight ticket can win all twelve even if it has much less than a majority of the vote. The House of Representatives is a bit better, since the 253 first-past-the-post seats are supplemented by 63 proportional party-list seats, although the proportionality is very rudimentary.

And it Marcos’s administration is anything like his father’s, the balance of power in the legislature won’t matter much: Marcos senior declared martial law, closed down congress and imprisoned or murdered his opponents. Many people feared something similar when Duterte was first elected, but although his regime’s record on human rights has been deplorable, Philippine democracy has survived.

Let’s hope it can survive another Marcos as well.


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