Philippine Midterm Polls Give Preview of 2016 Presidential Race

Judging by surveys, Philippine political dynasties are on good footing leading up to midterm elections.

Filipinos will go back to the polls on May 13, 2013 when the nation will hold its midterm national and local elections. In terms of numbers, there are 52 million voters out of a population of 92 million. They will be voting to fill 18,000 elective positions, including 12 senators, 229 district members of the House of Representatives and 80 provincial governors.

At the national level, the 12 senators who will be elected or re-elected will gain instant electoral advantage if ever they decide to run for president or vice president in the 2016 elections. Bearing in mind that the last three presidents, including the incumbent, were senators first, incumbent senators are aggressively competing for the top ranking in the senate race. In other words, this year’s senatorial election is a preview of the 2016 presidential election. This explains the attempted power grab underway by major parties in Congress, especially in the nation’s local government units. 

In addition to serving as a preview of the next presidential race, midterm polls are often used to gauge the public approval rating of the incumbent administration. So far, administration candidates are doing well in surveys, reflecting the continuing popularity of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. In fact, the ruling Liberal Party has named its senate slate as “Team PNoy” (President Noynoy) in the hopes of winning votes from the president’s supporters.

The high public trust rating of Aquino is attributed to the reforms he has implemented since assuming the presidency in 2010. Perhaps the absence of a strong opposition bloc has also boosted Aquino’s popularity. Vice President Jejomar Binay, who comes from a different party and acts as the titular leader of the United Opposition (UNO), has chosen to be a quiet collaborator in the Aquino government. 

Further, the opposition senate slate is not united by a clear political platform and their proposed policy reforms merely echo the programs offered by the administration. In short, the choice of voters is limited to officially sanctioned administration candidates and other candidates belonging to minority parties who are not necessarily opposed to the programs of the ruling coalition. 

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The lack of alternative candidates in the elections has frustrated many people and led to the rise of a citizen movement opposed to the dominance of political dynasties in Philippine politics. This year’s election is perhaps the first in Philippine history when politicians are being forced to defend the practice of enlisting members of the same clan to run for various political positions.

In the senate race alone, candidates include the nephew of the president, the daughter of the vice president, the son of the senate president, and the brother of an incumbent senator. Political dynasties are still expected to win big this year but at least there is a nascent political movement that is beginning to challenge the oligarchic control and feudal nature of Philippine politics. 

One issue that emerged during the campaign period that deserves to be seriously addressed even after elections is the credibility of the automated election system. For the second time, the Philippines are conducting elections using an automated system, but there are growing concerns about the accuracy and reliability of the voting machines procured by the Commission on Elections. It didn’t help that the agency has refused to allow a third-party source code review of the software that will be used in the counting of election results. 

On a positive note, compared to 2010 this year’s elections have featured less political intrigue and, bickering among candidates, and fewer fiery speeches. Be that as it may, next week’s voting results will determine the country’s political landscape in the next few years and will give a glimpse of what to expect in the 2016 presidential race.