On May 10, more than 50 million Filipinos are expected to help choose their country’s next president, with 10 candidates vying for the unenviable task of leading a nation of 92 million people for the next 6 years. So, who will prevail? Will the elections bring real change to the lives of Filipinos or will it end up as an entertaining but empty spectacle?
Filipinos will not only be choosing a new president—they’ll also select the next vice president, 12 senators, 1 district representative, 1 party list representative and respective local government officials. Voters will also choose a mayor, vice mayor and 6 to 12 council members. Voters in the 85 provinces will elect a governor, vice governor and 6 to 12 board members. All this means there are more than 85,000 candidates vying for only 17,000 national and local positions.
Hot, Getting Hotter
As the Philippines braces for the El Nino phenomenon this summer, the country’s political temperature has already been sizzling as campaigning for national elective posts began last February 9. And the political climate will get hotter still from March 26, when the campaign period for local elections begins.
In fact, the 2010 election is actually shaping up to be the most important electoral exercise since the country booted out the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. Why?
1. Voting machines will be used in the coming elections. This is a crucial first in a country that had used manual voting and manual counting for the past hundred years or so. Poll automation is seen by many as a big improvement over the pre-modern, slow and fraud-prone manual elections. There’s hope that a faster automated election system can finally eliminate the cheating practices of dagdag-bawas (vote padding and vote shaving).
All this said, many analysts and politicians are also worried about the readiness and competence of the election body to conduct successful nationwide poll automation. If machines break down on election day, or if transmission of election results via the internet fails, it may provoke a constitutional crisis, not to mention political instability.
2. Youth voters will deliver the swing vote. About 40 percent of voters are expected to be aged between 18 and 35. There are also more than 3 million potential first time voters—a huge number that could transform the election considering that incumbent President Gloria Arroyo beat her rival in 2004 by just over one million votes.
First time voters here seem excited by their first opportunity to elect a president, despite the gloomy forecasts by some analysts that this huge potential voting bloc won’t turn out on election day.
3. President Arroyo will step down after nine years in power. She is already the second-longest serving president in the country’s post-war history. After almost a decade in power, Arroyo is relinquishing her post surrounded by controversy. If the surveys are to be believed, she is the most unpopular politician in the Philippines today, accused of electoral fraud, massive corruption and human rights violations. The opposition tried to impeach her several times.