Duterte's candidates set to sweep midterm elections

Dancers at a campaign event in Manila for the Philippines' midterm elections. On Monday, more than 60 million Filipinos will head to the polls to elect 12 senators, 297 district representatives and some 18,000 provincial, city and town officials.
Dancers at a campaign event in Manila for the Philippines' midterm elections. On Monday, more than 60 million Filipinos will head to the polls to elect 12 senators, 297 district representatives and some 18,000 provincial, city and town officials.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Win will enable Philippine leader to continue with harsh anti-drug war, among other things

Judging by the latest opinion polls, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his candidates are likely to dominate next week's midterm elections, giving him a smooth second act in what has been a polarising presidency.

On Monday, more than 60 million Filipinos will elect 12 senators, 297 district representatives and some 18,000 provincial, city and town officials.

In the closely watched Senate polls, six candidates who are expected to win seats belong to a coalition of political parties helmed by Mr Duterte's daughter Sara Carpio, the feisty Mayor of Davao City.

Three more have statistically high chances of winning.

Only one candidate from the opposition party is likely to win, and he is bringing up the rear. The rest of the shoo-ins are running as independents, but they espouse agendas that toe Mr Duterte's line.

The predicted outcome would be a "major historical aberration", said political analyst Richard Heydarian, author of The Rise Of Duterte: A Populist Revolt Against Elite Democracy.

Past midterm polls saw half of the Senate seats going to the ruling party. This time, Mr Duterte is guaranteed a landslide. "The impeccable campaign performance of his alter egos… is a perfect reflection of the President's endorsement power," said Mr Heydarian.

 
 
 

Mr Duterte remains popular despite his brutal drug war, attacks on human rights advocates, church leaders and journalists, dismal anti-corruption campaign and pro-China rhetoric.

His administration enjoys record-high approval ratings. Four in five Filipinos say they are satisfied with how things are moving.

POWERFUL LEVERAGE

The impeccable campaign performance of his alter egos… is a perfect reflection of the President's endorsement power. 

MR RICHARD HEYDARIAN, a political analyst and author of The Rise Of Duterte: A Populist Revolt Against Elite Democracy, on Mr Rodrigo Duterte's expected victory.

Next week's polls will ensure that the Philippines remains on an even keel. Among those who will soon become senators are Mr Christopher Go and Mr Ronald dela Rosa. Both men have been with Mr Duterte for decades, going back to when he was Davao's mayor.

Mr Go has never been elected to office. He is best known as the man who always stood behind Mr Duterte wherever he went, carried his boss' bag and answered his calls.

He was also the "selfie king" who always managed to snap photos of himself with the world leaders and celebrities whom Mr Duterte met.

Mr Dela Rosa, as head of the country's police force from 2016 to last year, was the chief enforcer of Mr Duterte's aggressive war on the narcotics trade.

It is not known how these two men will fare as lawmakers. But it is certain that they are among Mr Duterte's most loyal enforcers.

Nearly all the new faces joining the Senate owe Mr Duterte a huge political debt. The same goes for the 297-seat House of Representatives, Congress' lower chamber.

This means that Mr Duterte will be able to pursue his agenda unfettered. He can enjoy full support in Congress for an even harsher crackdown on the narcotics trade, and his pivot to China will remain unchallenged.

But a bigger victory for him is the leverage he will gain in pushing for a shift from a presidential to a federal form of government, a pillar of his political agenda.

 
 

Mr Duterte is "looking at relatively calm political waters", which is a good outlook for him, said Mr Bob Herrera-Lim, the managing director at political risk consulting firm Teneo.

The Philippines has also chalked up its highest credit rating in its history. Inflation has slid back to a 16-month low and fewer Filipinos are jobless.

Pundits believe the opposition's inability to mount an effective challenge to Mr Duterte's candidates reflects lingering frustrations over the failures of past governments.

For all the accusations of incompetence, corruption and autocratic impulses against Mr Duterte, the opposition is still seen as representing a cabal that is even more corrupt and unreliable.

"Duterte's authoritarian brand of populism is still in tune with the political zeitgeist," said Mr Heydarian.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2019, with the headline 'Duterte's candidates set to sweep midterm elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe