Looking ahead: Leadership changes and uncertainty in 2010

by Isagani de Castro Jr., abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Jan 03 2010 09:47 PM | Updated as of Jan 04 2010 10:37 PM

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines will see changes in political leadership in 2010, with an opposition president and vice-president likely to take over by noon of June 30, 2010.

However, the political transition is paved with a lot of uncertainty brought about by an untested poll automation technology and most voters still unfamiliar with the process.

Based on the October 22-30 Nationwide Survey on Election-related Probes, 61% of Filipinos had little or no knowledge about the Automated Election System (AES). Eighty percent of voters among the D and E socio-economic groups had little knowledge about it.

A plurality of 43% were undecided when asked whether the May 2010 automated elections will be “credible” for the citizenry. A total of 16% disagreed while 40% agreed that the automated polls will be credible.

Some opposition groups have thus raised the spectre of “no proclamation” or “no elections” scenarios, leading to the possibility of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo staying in power even beyond her term, just like Ferdinand Marcos in 1972.

Unlike the late President Corazon Aquino’s commitment to ensure a peaceful transition of power to her successor in 1992, President Arroyo’s decision to run for Congress in 2010 is another factor that has contributed to the climate of political uncertainty.

Voters want change

Based on the December 8-10, 2009 survey of polling firm Pulse Asia, the pro-administration sentiment, reflected in its candidate, former National Defense Secretary Gilbert ‘Gibo’ Teodoro Jr., reflected a constituency of only 5%.

This is a significant decline from the 40% which President Arroyo received in the 2004 elections. Pollsters point to the 2005 “Hello Garci” election scandal as the key turning point in the public’s attitude toward Mrs. Arroyo. It’s been downhill for her ever since and she will surely end up as the country’s most unpopular chief executive post-1986.

Political analysts see little chance of Teodoro catching up, especially after power brokers start placing their bets on the frontrunners when the campaign starts in February.

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The change constituency, spread out among five main candidates—Senator Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, Senator Manny Villar, former President Joseph Estrada, Senator Richard Gordon, Brother Eddie Villanueva—accounted for 89% of the public.

The May 10, 2010 presidential race is emerging as a three-person contest among the Liberal Party’s Aquino, the Nacionalista Party’s Villar, and Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino’s Estrada.

Based on the December survey of Pulse Asia, Aquino, with 45% support, still held a comfortable 22% lead over Villar (23%) and 26% lead over Estrada (19%).

Estrada disqualification

However, in the event the Supreme Court, now filled with appointees of President Arroyo, disqualifies Estrada from the race due to legal and constitutional grounds, the presidential race could end up a close race between Aquino and Villar.

With Villar marketing himself as a pro-poor candidate, an Estrada disqualification is expected to boost Villar’s chances. Key financial backers may even decide to place their bets on Villar.

However, an Estrada endorsement of frontrunner Aquino is not being discounted by analysts.

In a recent interview on ABS-CBN’s Media in Focus, Vivian Tin, reseach chief of ABS-CBN, says Aquino remains vulnerable to the pro-poor presidential marketing campaigns of the other candidates. The poor, who comprise 90% of the voting population, are the most influential when it comes to elections.

Voters want pro-poor, clean president

The pro-poor sentiment among voters is similar to the pro-Erap sentiment in the 1998 elections. Estrada won with 39% support, defeating 9 other presidential candidates.

But surprisingly, the pro-poor sentiment is no longer as strong as it was in 1998. A more informed Filipino public, one who sees the link between corruption and poverty, has emerged.

Although the strongest constituency—based on Pulse Asia’s question why they will vote for the candidate they chose—is still the group which wants someone who “cares for the poor,” the second largest constituency is the community who wants prefers someone who is “not corrupt,” or one who has a “clean record.”

Around one in four persons (27%) wants a president who “cares for the poor.” Most of them are from the lower income classes: 1 out of 4 from the D or the “masa”, and 1 out of 3 from the poorest income group.

One in 5 persons wants a president who is “not corrupt,” and many of them are in Metro Manila.

Political analyst Tony Gatmaitan says President Arroyo only has herself to blame for this large community who wants someone clean. With so many scandals affecting her administration since 2001, Filipinos are so fed up with corruption that this sentiment could determine who the next president will be.

Pulse Asia’s Chief Research Fellow Dr. Ana Maria Tabunda says this change reflects a more mature voting population compared to previous elections. In previous polls, she says that it’s the “cares for the poor” or “can do something” which stood out as the reasons for voters’ choices.

Proponents of good government have pointed out that corruption means less resources to badly-needed public infrastructure and services such as education, health, and housing.

Vice-presidential, senatorial races

The change sentiment is also reflected in the vice-presidential contest, where opposition bets Senator Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas of the Liberal Party and Senator Loren Legarda of the Nacionalista Party got 39% and 37% support respectively from the public in the December 8-10 survey.

Together with third-placer Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay’s 14%, the change constituency in the vice-presidential race is 9 out of 10 voters.

Administration bet Edu Manzano got only 2% support in the survey, a far cry from the 49% that then administration candidate Noli de Castro got in the 2004 elections.

In the Senate race, only 2 (Senator Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr. and Senator Lito Lapid) out of the top 14 senatorial candidates likely to win are from the administration, assuming elections were held in December 2009.

In the 2007 polls, 3 out of the top 12 senators were from administration—Senators Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, and Juan Miguel Zubiri.