The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:38:00 04/14/2010
THE POINT OF DECISION IS APPROACHING, for individuals as well as the country. By all accounts, a larger percentage of the voting population has made up its mind compared to previous elections, but there remain both enough undecided voters and already-committed (but not steadfastly so) supporters to make the situation volatile still.
At the heart of the choice that voters and candidates have to make, is whether they will throw their lot with the veterans of the Marcos martial law machine, or gamble on reinvigorating the anti-Marcos coalition. Both, in a sense, are on their second and even third generations and with some interesting permutations: the most interesting one being President Macapagal-Arroyo, as she seeks to hold the balance of power not just going into election day, but beyond.
Undecided voters, for one, see the deadline for making their choices coming up fast, and as the political campaign reaches a crescendo, the sound and fury of the contest can lead even the committed to switch sides. Political candidates in the local races are also looking at firming up their affiliations, with the President’s patronage having held back some from switching sides until they can be sure every last peso promised them is released. Local candidates have to keep an eye on what they think will be the odds of being on the right or wrong side in terms of the national races, and voters’ opinions in their districts or provinces.
Whether national or local, logistics matters. It’s interesting that Joel Rocamora, a keen observer of political dynamics on the ground, puts forward the conventional wisdom that machinery can deliver 20 percent of the votes, though this is balanced, or hampered (depending on where you stand), by 80 percent of the votes being truly up for grabs. Buck the trend too much, and the machinery delivering on election day can actually be a problem if delivered to the losing side. An additional note is the Comelec reiterating the possibility that up to 30 percent of the voting may have to be done the old-fashioned way, with an almost-identical percentage having been bragged by the Frankenstein coalition as fully within its means to deliver to whoever it chooses to support.
Another estimate made by a formidable political operator in the government to my colleagues some time ago is equally interesting: the percentage of votes susceptible to manipulation, so to speak, is about 10 percent. What is unclear is if this is above and beyond the 20 percent conventionally believed to be within the power of political machines to deliver, or part of it. Whether this is even a modest or inflated estimate is unclear, but for the sake of argument let us assume this means that an administration machine can deliver anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the vote, whether by wielding traditional logistics or more unusual methods. Since it is, perhaps, more prudent to assume the worst, then I don’t see any real deviation from what the operators say privately and what the Comelec and the ruling party have said publicly. Thirty percent of the popular vote, nationally speaking, is vulnerable.
Opportunity, however, doesn’t guarantee success. The long, detailed studies of the methods used by the administration to achieve its desired ends by hook or by crook in 2004 relied on various strategies all aimed at achieving the same goal. The first was to purge the precincts, as much as possible, of voters unfriendly to the administration. Disenfranchisement knocked off as many as 900,000 voters in the 2004 presidential polls. Then came the padding and shaving of votes, retaining the overall expected outcome in various areas while subtly changing the results, so that in the end, there was a net gain for the administration and a loss for the opposition. Only when these more subtle strategies failed did the President send in an emergency response team that was so crude “egged on by a frantic President” that it ended up exposed a year later.
It’d be well to remember that ultimately, the President’s trump card in responding to the ensuing crisis was a simple challenge purely Marcosian in its combination of crudeness and craft. The choice she offered was a simple one: Will you risk entering into unknown territory, constitutionally and politically speaking, or help maintain the fiction that the veneer of legality actually represents legitimacy? The risks were graphically represented by the armed might of the state being mobilized “and energetically exercised to ensure that every opportunity to prove public opinion stood foursquare against the President would fail to achieve its potential because of the message that this was one administration that was willing to spill blood, if necessary.
That underlying threat remains; the strategy remains as well. So even as organized political groups, whether national or local, obsess over how to get voters to the precincts and ensure the votes are counted as actually cast, the problem of the counting and the various scenarios raised by these problems complicate the decisions they have to make about who to support and to what extent, nationally-speaking, they are prepared to manifest that support or for how long.
This is where the court of public opinion competes with, and can potentially neutralize, the courts of law or whatever controlled forums the administration is trying to keep under its thumb. An election is a referendum that hinges on a single question: more of the same, or something different? Each voter has a sense of where the country stands on this question. Not that the actual result is a foregone conclusion, but rather, the possible outcomes, everybody knows, are limited and not infinite.
Postscript: After this column went to press, I attended a briefing in which Malou Tiquia of Publicus gave the following presentation, which she authorized me to share with readers of this blog. Incidentally, among her clients is presidential candidate Richard Gordon.