MANILA – Despite an almost-certain landslide win for Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III in Monday’s presidential election, it is not clear whether this will translate into a mandate for the anti-corruption and reform measures he promised on the campaign trail. He was elected in what is being deemed a clean election, though ten people died on polling day itself, after well over one hundred more candidates and election workers were killed during the campaign.
After a last-minute panic over the viability of the computerised counting system, the election is being depicted as a success, all things considered. The technical armageddon never materialised, and “on the whole, the election went well by national standards”, says Telibert Laoc, who works with the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL).
Mr Laoc told The Irrawaddy that the most serious nationwide problem with the elections was a de facto “absence of a real secret ballot”. At five different polling stations in the Manila metropolitian area, The Irrawaddy saw voters sitting side-by-side in the open, in the middle of polling stations where they were surrounded by hundreds of other voters, poll watchers and officials. The sole impediment to this correspondent taking photos of the voter as he or she marked the ballot. was the voter’s own willingness to photographed.
While there were long queues at some stations, particularly where some of the computerised scanning machines malfunctioned, or where electoral staff were slow to get to grips with the process, in other locations the voters faced little delay or hindrance. Speaking to The Irrawaddy at Palma polling station in Manila, Myrna S. Sacompong watched as the last of the voters filed in at 6.45pm on Monday evening, tiptoeing through what looked like a confetti-shower of campaign leaflets and literature scattered all over the converted schoolyard. “There was no funny business here”, she said, though her organisation, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) noted incidents of vote-buying elsewhere in the country.
The way the election played out, and the quick concession of defeat by rival candidates should put Aquino in a strong position. he will succeed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who won a congress seat for herself. There she is will try to accumulate a coalition to make life difficult for Aquino. The two have clashed in the past, and Aquino’s pledge on Tuesday to “go after anyone who steals” was too vague to rattle Arroyo, then his view that , she should be investigated the ‘Hello Garci’ scandal, involving a phone call she allegedly made to an election commissioner during the 2004 presidential poll, will doubtless have alarmed the outgoing President.
Whether or not Noynoy’s actions will match his rhetoric remains to be seen. The tough talk jars with his reserved demeanour, and with what critics say is a tepid and undistinguished political career to date. He may have to confront the array of vested interests and competing factions that made leadership so difficult for his mother, who came to power in 1987 with an unprecedented mandate. Bobby Tauzon is Director of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CENPEG) in Manila. He told The Irrawaddy that Mr Aquino did not express too many novel ideas or policies while campaigning. “His election platform basically does not differ from others not to mention the programs espoused by Gloria Arroyo”, said Mr Tauzon.
If Arroyo can control one-third of the Ccngress, she has the numbers to hit Aquino with an impeachment suit. Knowing this could in turn deter the incoming President from going after Arroyo on various corruption and election-stealing charges that tarnished her extended, nine year Presidency. Personality clashes could come into play too. As Alberto S Lim, head of the Makati Business Council and an Aquino supporter put it to The Irrawaddy, “Noynoy and GMA are not on good terms.”
Arroyo aside, another old Aquino nemesis is back in the game. Not only was Imelda Marcos re-elected to Congress, son Ferdinand Jr won a Senate seat with a nationwide vote exceeding that of any Presidential candidate bar for Aquino. Daughter “Imee” Romualdez-Marcos came out on top in the race for Governor in the family stronghold of Ilocos Norte.
Aquino’s mother Corazon became the unlikely leader of the 1986 ‘People’s Power’ street demonstrations that led to the ousting of Imelda’s husband, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Aquino’s father Ninoy, a journalist-turned-politician, was assassinated at Manila’s international airport while he alighted from the ‘plane that brought him home, to challenge the dominance of the ailing Marcos, after three years in exile.
Marcos fled in disgrace in 1986, his rule ending as Rosary-chanting nuns and protestors implored his soldiers to put their guns down amid a tense confrontation on Edsa Boulevard in Manila. On the same street last Monday some Marcos nostalgia was evident, with voters saying that the earlier years of his rule are now remembered for steady jobs and business opportunities, even if political competition was off-limits.
The rose-tinted sentiment is perhaps an indictment of nine years under Arroyo, accused of buying her win in the 2004 Presidential election, after which her family got embroiled in saga of corruption allegations. Her legitimacy as leader took a well-deserved hammering, with opinion surveys showing her to be the least popular president since Marcos. Quite an indictment considering she succeeded Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada, under whom she served as Vice-President before switching sides as 2001 street protests against Erap gathered momentum. In a remarkable comeback, Mr Estrada looks set to finish second to Aquino in this presidential race. He was pardoned by Arroyo in 2007.
The Vice-Presidential race is not settled yet, with Aquino running-mate Mar Roxas lagging slightly behind rival Jejomar Binay. However even a defeat for the Aquino ticket here would not automatically undermine the incoming president, according to analysts. Steven Rood is Asia Foundation Country Representative in the Philippines. He reminded The Irrawaddy that Binay was been part of the opposition along with Aquino, and says that “Noynoy has previously indicated a willingness to include Jejomar in the cabinet.”
With much power vested in the presidency, it is typical for politicians with rival parties defect to carry the presidents standard – not least as parties in the Philippines are usually flimsy and short-lived. That is the historical pattern, according to Steven Rood, author of many books on Filipino politics. “Should the incoming President not have a majority immediately after the election, by the time Congress is organized enough members have switched parties to form a majority for the incoming administration”, he added
However with rivals and opponents weighing options and trying to build coalitions, the man with the evocative bloodline must “work fast, and make the first hundred days count”, says Alberto S. Lim. So for now, the question is this: Noynoy will be in office, but will he be in power?Show