Prospect of another plurality president looms

Philip M. Lustre Jr.
Prospect of another plurality president looms
The last two months of the political campaign would be defined to a large extent by the quiet works of the men and women in the front line or those manning the political organization and its machinery

The Supreme Court’s verdict allowing Senator Grace Poe to run for president puts the four major presidential candidates in a single starting gate for the last single burst of speed – or push – en route to political victory on May 9.

Since Jejomar Binay, Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe, and Mar Roxas were described to have been “statistically tied” as indicated by opinion polls, the prospect of another plurality – not majority – president now looms, approximating the 1992 presidential elections, where Fidel Ramos won by not even a quarter of all votes cast.

The Poe camp was claiming that the High Court’s decision would boost her poll ratings to ensure political victory. But the other camps have assumed a crisis mode in their political campaigns to counter whatever inroads the verdict would create for Poe.

They have downplayed the SC decision claiming that it would not affect their chances and their respective political campaigns. They were claiming that they have factored the Supreme Court’s verdict, no matter how it goes, in their political campaigns.

Since the four major presidential candidates are at the same starting gate, the candidates cannot just rely on media hype, organized negative campaign, and social media presence to obtain political victory. A lot of things would depend on the kind of political organization and machinery a presidential candidate has.

The presidential candidate who possesses a nationwide organization and grassroots presence has the edge on May 9. When it works quietly, it could spell the big difference.   

Weak mandate

The 1987 Constitution does not provide any run-ups for the presidential contenders. It says that whoever among the presidential contenders obtains the highest number of votes in the presidential elections held on the first Monday of May and every six years thereafter becomes the president.

Knowing the fractious nature of previous political exercises, framers of the 1987 Constitution did not see the nation’s political system as adaptive and responsive to install a process of elimination, where only the presidential candidate, who obtains a simple majority, or 50 percent plus one of all votes cast, becomes president.

In brief, it allows a leading presidential candidate to assume the presidency on the basis of having the plurality – or the most number of votes, even if it does not reach the 50 percent plus one of all votes cast – in the constitutionally mandated presidential elections. This is different from the more established democracies, where the elected heads of government are required to have the simple majority of all cast votes.

RUNNING IN MAY 2016. The 5 presidential candidates. Photo courtesy of Comelec

Critics said a plurality president has a weaker mandate compared to a majority president. From a theoretical standpoint, a plurality president could hardly govern. The danger lies on the possibility that the majority of his political constituents would not follow his leadership and command, critics said.

Minority president

The specter of a minority president first appeared in 1992, when the country had the first presidential elections after the fateful 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that toppled the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship and ushered the restoration of democracy under the government of the late Corazon Aquino, the democracy icon. 

The 1987 Constitution, which has replaced the martial law tainted 1973 Constitution, provides a multiparty system, where major political parties could field the candidates they freely choose. There is no restriction on the number of presidential candidates in every political exercise. Since then, the country never had a majority president. The presidents elected in the previous four presidential elections are all plurality or minority presidents.

In the 1992 presidential elections, Fidel V. Ramos, candidate of the newly formed Lakas–NUCD, won narrowly against six other candidates, garnering 5,342,521 votes, or 23.6% of all votes cast. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, People’s Reform Party presidential bet, came second with 4,468,173 votes, or 19.7%.

1992 Presidential Elections
Name Votes
Fidel V. Ramos 5,342,521
Miriam Defensor-Santiago 4,468,173
Eduardo Cojuangco Jr 4,116,376
Ramon Mitra Jr 3,316,661
Imelda Marcos  2,338,294
Jovito Salonga 2,302,123
Salvador Laurel 770,046

Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., the Nationalist People’s Coalition candidate, landed third with 4,116,376 votes, or 18.2%, while Ramon Mitra Jr, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino bet was fourth with 3,316,661, or 14.6%.

Imelda Marcos, Kilusang Bagong Lipunan candidate, came fifth with 2,338,294 votes or 10.32%; Jovito Salonga of the Liberal Party, sixth, with 2,302,123, or 10.16%; and Salvador Laurel of the Nacionalista Party, seventh and last, with 770,046 votes, or 3.4%.

Ramos knew he held a precarious mandate. Immediately after he assumed the presidency, he reached out to his political opponents and major political groups and forces to ensure political stability. Coming from a series of military coups and political destabilization campaigns under her predecessor, Ramos knew where he stood.

Popular minority president  

In the 1998 presidential elections, popular movie actor Joseph Estrada, Laban ng Masang Pilipino bet, tried hard to become a majority president, He won convincingly but he failed to become a majority president, as he got 10,722,295 votes or 39.8% of all votes cast. Jose de Venecia Jr of Lakas-NUCD-UMDP came a poor second with 4,268,483, votes or 15.9%.

Aksyon Demokratiko presidential bet Raul Roco took third with 3,720,212, or 13.8%; Emilio “Lito” Osmeña, of Probinsya Muna Development Initiative (Promdi), fourth, with 3,347,631, or 12.4%; Alfredo Lim of Liberal Party, sixth, with 2,344,362 votes or 8.7%; Renato de Villa of Reporma, seventh, with 1,308,352 votes, or 4.9%. Four other bets had negligible votes.

In the controversial and bitterly contested 2004 presidential elections, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats candidate, won narrowly over movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., garnering 12,905,808 votes, or 40.0%, for a margin of a little over one million votes over her rival.  Poe, Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino bet, had 11,782,232, votes, or 36.5%.

Panfilo Lacson, who ran under a faction of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, landed third with 3,510,080, votes, or 10.9%; Raul Roco of Aksyon Demokratiko, fourth, with 2,082,762, or  6.45%; and Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas Party, fifth with 1,988,218 votes, or 6.2%.

Sentimental favorite

In the 2010 presidential elections, Benigno Aquino III, Liberal Party candidate, was the sentimental favorite. Seeing him in the funeral procession of her late mother, the Filipino people took him seriously as the next president. 

2010 Presidential Elections
Name Votes
Benigno Aquino III 15,208,678
Joseph Estrada   9,487,837
Manuel Villar 5,573,835
Gilberto Teodoro 4,095,839
Eddie Villanueva 1,125,878
Richard Gordon 501,727
* 3 other candidates got negligible votes.

Aquino won the biggest plurality in the post-Marcos election, as he got 15,208,678, votes, or 42.1% of all votes cast. Actor Joseph Estrada of the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino, received 9,487,837 votes, or 26.3%. Manny Villar, the Nacionalista Party bet, landed third with 5,573,835 votes, or15.4%.

Gilberto Teodoro of Lakas Kampi CMD, was fourth with 4,095,839 votes, or 11.3%; Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas Party, fifth with 1,125,878 votes, or 3.1%; and Richard Gordon of Bagumbayan-Volunteers for a New Philippines, sixth with 501,727 votes, or 1.4%. Three other candidates got negligible votes.

Although the Filipino people have learned to accept a minority president, the prospect of electing a majority president in a multiparty system has become so difficult. This has pushed political pundits to advocate the constitutional amendment seeking a return of the two-party system, where two major presidential candidates vie for the top post.

Pundits said the two-party system ensures a more centrist political system and discourages the emergence of extremist ideas that could threaten the restored democracy. Moreover, a two party political system was part of the country’s political traditions that dated back to the old Commonwealth days. It is considered more manageable.

Social media as platform

The presidential candidates have obviously learned the importance of two big factors that could propel their candidacies: social media and organized negative campaign. They know they could reshape the conduct of ongoing political campaign.

Believing that social media is a perfect platform to reach out to multitudes of online savvy citizens, mostly millennials aged 35 and below, the four major presidential contenders have established their presence there, as their supporters keep on posting various messages, mostly propaganda materials. They either promote their candidates, or bash the other candidates. They also engage in hate campaign through social media.

Some political pundits have declared social media as a vast, desolate wasteland full of messages of contempt with very few areas for political oasis, or conflict resolution. While social media could easily bring out the information in the fastest, most convenient manner, its efficacy is now under question because of the lamentable rise of partisanship. Moreover, social media has become a platform for polarization, where contending forces are locked in a perpetual battle for supremacy.

It has become difficult to rely on social media, some observers say. It is full of fake news, hate mails, and memes of undecipherable contents. Contents flow in a single stream of contempt and unforgivable negative vibrations. The political classes are quite few, they aver.

Negative campaign

Organized negative campaigns are quite visible and pronounced in the current political campaign. Victims of human rights abuses, or those who were arrested and jailed without charges, tortured, and threatened by the Marcos dictatorship, have created a movement to engage in a nationwide organized negative campaign against the vice presidential bid of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

In pursuing his own organized negative camp, the camp of the young Marcos has formed a secret group of operators to present a revised version of history, revived the old network of aging and retired journalists who once worked in the crony media of the Marcos dictatorship, and commissioned unemployed writers to draft the revised history.

Organized negative campaign could be observed too in the emergence of various online groups or socio-political groups opposing certain candidates. Online groups have been vocally opposing the presidential bid of Binay, who could only offer token resistance to the plethora of their criticisms.

But as the camps of the four major presidential candidates keep on battling intensely in social media and organized negative campaign, it could be surmised that they have been cancelling each other out. The current political impasse has been largely a function of the never-say-die battles in social media and negative campaigning. They are not giving any quarters to their political adversaries.

In brief, the statistical tie could have been an offshoot of the perception that they have cancelled each other out in social media and organized negative campaign. No one among the four major presidential contenders has obtained the remarkable political advantage to declare him as the favored candidate.

Political organization

In the wake of the political impasse among the four candidates, the overlooked or even ignored factor emerges: political organization and machinery. The last two months of the political campaign would be defined to a large extent by the quiet works of the men and women in the front line or even behind the frontline, or those manning the political organization and its machinery.

The political organization  – or the political party –  raises funds for the campaign, mainly the political sorties in the provinces and major cities and the media advertising of the presidential ticket. It typifies the largely invisible hand that makes the political campaign smooth and efficient – and effective.

The political organization, or party, likewise establishes the grassroots structures to enable the candidates to campaign nationwide. These structures also ensure that supporters in the grassroots level would work for the political campaign of the presidential ticket.

Hence, the presidential contender with the political organization that could provide the nationwide machinery stands a better chance of beating the odds. The candidate, who, with the help of his supporters, has an organization with a nationwide presence, as indicated by its slate of candidates even to the lowest political, enjoys the advantage of staying in the game.

Many issues could emerge as the political campaign enters the homestretch. The respective camps of these candidates would certainly defuse any controversy, using their respective social media presence and network of negative organized campaigners.

But the presidential camp that possesses an existing political organization with a nationwide network and presence is still the political force that has to be reckoned with on May 9. The political game has been reduced to a battle of political machinery, not just of wits and savvy. – Rappler.com  

 

Philip M. Lustre Jr is a veteran journalist with more than 3 decades of experience writing on economic and political affairs. Email him at ba.ipe.lustre@gmail.com

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