OPINION: Transition Politics

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Dec 26 2019 11:57 PM

Just 30 months from now, we’ll have a new President.  That means, in 28 months, we’ll have the next Presidential election.  Like clockwork, everyone involved in politics is now busy preparing.  Those in the administration are thinking, as many outgoing administrations thought before, that they have the advantage, especially since the President’s popularity is unprecedentedly high.

President Duterte is so far the most trusted President compared to the last three chief executives.  Comparing only the ratings in the first half of the term of office (given that President Duterte has started only the second half of his term), his lowest rating was at 75 percent in March 2017, compared to former President Aquino’s 65 percent in May 2012.  The latter’s highest rating was at 80 percent, compared to the President’s 91 percent.  What we have yet to see is whether it will decline towards the end of the term as former President Aquino's dipped to as low as 39 percent in February 2016.  If President Duterte sustains his rating up to 2022, he will  really be the undisputed, most popular President ever.

 This is where the rub is.  While I would even hasten to declare now that I have no doubts the President will be able to sustain his popularity, it is an entirely different story to assume that his popularity can be transferred.  We have seen this twice already.  Former President FVR was popular when he was about to leave Malacañang, but his anointed successor lost.  Former President Noynoy Aquino likewise was popular and everyone thought then that whoever he endorses would win hands down.  In fact, because of his popularity, everyone thought there was no need for political parties to conduct congresses to determine who gets to run for President.

And so the proverbial “anointment” became the only process of nomination, which was entirely dependent on “popularity”.  Of course, the result of the 2016 elections showed things differently.  There’s no doubt that no one will be elected if he is not popular, but as to the why and how the candidate became popular is proving to be the better handle.  The then-Mayor Duterte did not have a national following. However, news of how he led Davao got the attention of the public that—brick by brick—support grew and solidified.  It is therefore not enough to just be popular at the outset, and certainly it cannot just be sheer popularity.  People, despite some still thinking they are bobotante, actually think carefully with whatever limited information they have on issues and/or the candidates.

We should learn enough from previous administrations.  More than sustaining popularity, there should be an effort to find a way to preserve the administration coalition.  Of course, this is quite a tall order; having tasted power is an effective elixir for hubris. I have seen many who came to government as friends and left as enemies.  So, everyone and every group thinks they have the right to stay in power, and that they have the means to stay in power.  Indubitably, this is easier said than done.  As individual groups, it will not be as effective a campaign vehicle as it was before.  Apart from that, previous partners are always the bitterest of enemies.  This explains why, almost always, it is the opposition that gets the advantage.

The good news is that the opposition has not been the kind of opposition that we've had before.  I'm not even sure there is a legitimate opposition now.  So, the administration remains with the advantage but it has to organize and determine who in the administration now should be in the team for the next barnstorming.  It is too early for a campaign but it is the right time to organize and shed itself of unnecessary fats or political baggage.  And, as always, there’s so much of it.  In fact, with this in mind, it is important to be a lot more careful in the next 2 years if the administration is to remain popular.

If the opposition is to win, there has to be someone who will be seen as an alternative, one who is really or, at least, would pass to be an “alternative” political leader.  Again, popularity should not only be the gauge.  Note that popularity is difficult to achieve, but it is so easy to lose.  One can be up there ratings-wise, but in a snap, can fall miserably.  Remember how popular Aung San Suu Kyi was before, beloved by the whole world, in fact, but almost overnight, she went from "hero to villain” (Economist, 12 Dec. 2019).  We have our own local examples, and  I am sure you know who I have in mind.

The question is if can one still manage to get up from a precipice or even get out of a political hole?  Yes, but it is a lot more difficult as nearly impossible compared to one getting to be popular from being a virtual unknown.  I seriously doubt there’ll still be a red or a yellow who can be a consequential candidate come 2022.  It will take a black swan or a bizarre event for previously leading names in politics to get back and be serious contenders.  This event should be so immense that it can turn an empty record into a remarkable one, or an incompetent to being a capable would-be leader.  An opposition candidate should be an “entirely” new candidate or one who has little or no connection from what has become divisive colors of either red or yellow,  if he or she is to have any chance of getting popular support.

There has to be a track record and that leader should be more “his own man”.  Many started as someone who was good but was dependent on support.   This is common given the kind of political system we have.  These political leaders, on the other hand, can be their own man given some time.  So, timing is important, and leaders, including his party or support group, should know this.  Build an impeccable track record first and it will overshadow or outright outweigh whatever limitations there were before.

Basically, because we have yet to reform the system, yet again, we are back to square one.  Make no mistake; reforms, that is, real reforms, not those masquerading as reforms, have been consistently gaining ground.  Of course, it will take considerable time for these to reach critical mass on their own and result to a revolution of sorts.  Meanwhile, we are back to looking at individual personalities and pinning whatever is left of our hopes for a better tomorrow.  We are, again, at the “expectation” stage that the next 6 years, come 2022, will be better.  Then again, Filipinos are like that— optimistic.  I hope.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.