WITH two weeks to go before Election day, there are four competitions simultaneously taking place when it comes to the presidency and vice presidency. The first is, of course, for frontrunner Benigno Aquino III, to maintain and improve his status. The second is for second place, between Manuel Villar Jr. and Joseph Estrada. The third is among everyone else, so that they can make a respectable showing and perhaps open up the possibility of a Senate bid in 2013 and another run for the presidency in 2016.
In a similar manner, the endorsement by Sen. Francis Escudero of Aquino and Jejomar Binay can be viewed as the opening salvo, not only in a fight for influence in a possible Aquino administration, but also in the 2016 presidential contest in which current vice presidential frontrunner Manuel Roxas II is expected to be the leading presidential candidate. Binay’s gunning to displace Loren Legarda from second slot in the vice presidential race also serves as positioning for 2013 and beyond.
From 2005 onwards, the phrase in vogue was Malcolm Gladwell’s “[The] Tipping Point,” the point when “levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable”—though it became clear by 2006 that none would be reached vis-à-vis President Macapagal-Arroyo. Then in 2009, another phrase became current, “Black Swan”— from Nassim Nicholas Taleb who borrowed a line from the poet Juvenal: “a good person is as rare as a black swan.” Put another way, a Black Swan Event, according to Taleb, is something no one expected, and that no one foresaw, and indeed viewed as impossible in the manner that everyone assumed all swans were white until black swans were discovered in Australia.
The Black Swan Event was the death of Cory Aquino, who had stubbornly stuck to principle against the President but led an increasingly lonely crusade until her death led to the Great Awakening and the Great Remembering. That event has propelled what the administration—and everyone who shares a similar approach to political power and authority—fears might become a Tipping Point. If, as Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. sniffed (with reason) in 2005-06, that critics of the President were too focused on “manufacturing a People Power moment,” thus failing because these things can’t be scripted, then Cory’s death restored the proper perspective to the fight against the President, her methods, and her people, one put forward by Aquino herself in 1987: to restore democracy by the ways of democracy, that is, by means of an election.
This was where people’s inclinations had lain all along, explaining the intense dislike for the administration while holding back public support for methods that might terminally imperil our country’s democratic project. And it has starkly defined the present presidential contest as one between the administration and those inclined to pursue its methods, and those against it.
The paramount objective then, has been to prevent the frightening possibility of a majority presidency serving as a definitive referendum not only on the President but the attitudes she represents—and represented by those who have clung to her—which dates back to the showdown between the public and the dictatorship in 1986. Even as she tries to maneuver herself out of the constitutional deadline she tried to remove, an effort that meant pursuing simultaneous strategies ranging from supporting multiple candidates to frustrating the results of the elections. One thing is sure: she will pursue a scorched-earth policy to the end—and that means trying to neuter the presidency for any of her potential successors.
There are many ways to hobble a potential successor—like cheating the person out of office and this includes whittling down the results precisely to prevent a majority victory. This emboldens the forces out to resist the next administration, while weakening it so that it is perpetually presented with the temptation to follow the President’s decade-long policy of purely transactional politics. (She has been portrayed as immoral, which I think may be inaccurate; rather she is amoral in the pursuit of power, something she shares with those who view government as a business.)
The last two weeks then are all about trying, by any means necessary, to deny there can be something like a Tipping Point or, as it is traditionally referred to in politics, the onset of the bandwagon effect, when a campaign not only overcomes obstacles in its path but regains an upward trajectory and secures a momentous victory.
But if one were to argue there is no such thing as a bandwagon effect, then, one could argue as well that the power of an administration machine to deliver is a myth. Which is the countervailing impression the President and her people want to foster—formally, by means of their token official candidate, and informally with their unofficial candidate, regardless of its impact on public opinion. The administration has proven that what people think matters less than what access to limitless money, coercive power, and a lock on institutions can accomplish.
The thing is, precisely because there’s been a Black Swan Event, the old assumptions, the existing expertise, are less potent than before. It will be interesting to see if the combined interests of the administration, the Nacionalistas and everyone else deathly afraid of a defeat in a referendum on the past decade—which is what this election is, nationally speaking—can still pull it off.
Can they reduce the mandate of whoever will be the next president, to the extent that the next chief executive will be hard-pressed to even wield the genuine powers of the office? That is, if they can’t prevent a victory in the first place? Can they plant enough doubts to poison a possible mandate with the same cloud of illegitimacy?