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Apr 15

The Long View: Home stretch

The Long View
Home stretch
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.

Philippine Daily Inquirer Briefing by Malou Tiquia

4 comments

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  1. thecusponline

    “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.”

    Nice juxtaposition, but I would go past that by asking, what do Messrs Aquino, Roxas, Recto, Salceda, and Pangilinan all have in common? They all belong to the “new priesthood” of distinguished gentlemen and confirmed bachelors: men dedicated to public service, politicians who are also adept in the intricate science of “sausage making” (or policy wonks). They have delayed marriage, or when they have finally succumbed to it, have married highly successful independent women who don’t put pressure on them to support their lifestyle.

    According to Robert Nelson, this new elite have defined the new orthodoxy in advising heads of state. Contrary to criticisms that he is engaging with trapos, Aquino has put together a “broad church” with the inclusion of Recto and Salceda on the centre-right and Roxas and Pangilinan on the centre-left. Being pragmatically positioned in the middle, Aquino will have the advantage of taking in their considered views before making important decisions and can hopefully create synergy under his leadership.

    Unlike Team Aquino, the Villar camp seems to have absorbed elements of the ultra-right and far left. Individuals like Messrs Cayetano, Remulla and to a certain degree Tamano are good agit-prop politicians in the middle, but are relative novices when it comes to administering the sacraments of the state. Despite the fact that our political institutions might seem chaotic when held up against Western standards, there are still some glimmers of hope. There is definitely a distinct choice being offered to voters in the homestretch as you suggest, Manolo.

  2. Carl Cid Inting

    Chances are that Aquino wins by default. It’s not because he’s the best candidate, but because the others are no better. If not worse.

    As for GMA, she will most likely keep her powder dry until after the elections. She will save most of her resources for whatever undertakings she may plan, after the dust settles. With money and a political base, it isn’t difficult to continue being a power to reckon with. Just ask Danding Cojuangco.

  3. UP n Grad

    The sad thing is that noynoy is a badly flawed candidate. He has made pronouncements that, in other countries, would have resulted in him being dropped by his main party — e.g. his disregard for checks-and-balances with his pronouncement to disregard a 2010-Supreme Court GMA appointment. Likewise, his flipflop Reproductive-Health now you have it… ooops… now you don’t.

    But Pilipinas is Pilipinas is Pilipinas. Amazing how many who decry political dynasties of Philippine politics also are on the bandwagon to support the son of the Queen to inherit the throne.

  4. mlq3

    even if that’s your view it doesn’t follow that would be the view either of the party or the public. consider the supreme court: not only does his coming out strongly enjoy public support, it enjoys wide support within the legal community itself. precisely it is a defense of checks and balances and of legal and constitutional principles being disgregarded by the administration. those unhappay with his moderate statements on reproductive health have to consider the outright abandonment of the advocacy by other candidates: at worst he has preferred to focus on the sex education advocacy and been more accomodating of religious views on state funding for contraceptives, but again in comparison to what? total rejection of all of it by the other candidates. the worst you can say is he has erred on the side of inclusiveness while the others immediately surrendered to the catholic church. so by any standard he would do well by the measures of political campaigns. at least he has cobbled together a coalition that is holding unlike the sad experience of teodoro who is shocked, shocked, he is being betrayed by the president, or villar who’s campaign is floundering at crunch time.

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