Personality politics in the 2022 Philippine elections

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In his 26-year career, Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao has won 62 fights, 12 world titles and millions of dollars in prize money. Yet, as his time in the UFC ring draws to a close, Pacquiao prepares for a different kind of ring: the Philippine presidential election.

“By the grace of God, I will make every Filipino win in the Manny Pacquiao fight,” the Filipino said. senator noted at an opening rally for his campaign in February. Pacquiao promises to fight corruption while pursue the “war on drugs” policy of President Rodrigo Duterte’s strongman. Voters, however, were drawn to the “from rags to richesthe story of his life and fame as a boxing legend – his nickname “Pacman” even adorns a number of housing programs in his political platform.

Pacquiao is far from the only unconventional figure in the upcoming presidential elections in May 2022. The Philippine capital of Manila is under the mayoralty of the candidate Isko Moreno, a former actor. Even after its violent war on drugs led to a violation of human rights investigation by the International Criminal Court, President Duterte himself, despite its limited duration and reputedly rudehas been considered a candidate of choice. Above all, there is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the current favorite in the race and the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. According to recent survey, “Bongbong,” as Marcos Jr. is known, commands nearly half of all likely voters. Campaigning alongside Sara Duterte (Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter), he whitewashed her father’s brutal rule while playing on nostalgia and pretending to offer “unifyingleadership. Fifty years after Marcos Sr. first declared martial law, it’s entirely possible that Marcos Jr. will bring his family back to the presidential palace.

While Marcos Jr. strength of personality may contribute to his lead in the race, it does not fully explain why he – alongside other personality-driven candidates like the Dutertes, Pacquiao and Moreno – has enjoyed widespread electoral and political success. Instead, the Philippines’ political institutions, amplified through social media and the internet, are drawing public attention to the priority given to populist figures over concrete political platforms, aiding Marcos Jr. in a potential restoration of his family’s autocratic dynasty.

Philippine democratic institutions have had not much time establish themselves firmly. Prior to 1946, the Philippines spent centuries as a colony of Spain and the United States; its modern democracy has only existed since 1986, when democracy people power revolution ousted Marcos Sr. from office. As a result, many of its establishments— a free press, the rule of law, education and public participation — have not had much time to mature or strengthen. This immaturity was only got worse by Duterte’s presidency: Under the guise of “law and order,” Duterte actively weakened the media, filled the courts, and enacted a comprehensive anti-terrorism law this essentially allows his government to prosecute anyone suspected of drug trafficking.

“The presidential election has therefore turned into a political battle royale where politicians switch allegiance to gain just a few votes more than their opponents or align themselves with the winning party – and where the candidate matters far more than the his party’s platform.

Of the Philippine political institutions that have remained intact, many are also inherently defective. Chief among them is the country electoral system, which considerably weakens the power of political parties. The Philippines are the only presidential democracy in the world in which – according to the nation Constitution of 1987— almost all the elected officials (including the candidates for the presidency and the vice-presidency) are elected by unit vote. Also, the unique “Party List System” (PLS) in the Philippines limits the number of seats a political party can win in national elections. Intended to expand political representation for marginalized groups, the PLS actually goes against the idea of ​​proportional representation by limiting party list groups to just three seats. Hundreds of competing political parties have sprung up across the Philippines, weakening and dividing party power while strengthening individual candidates. The presidential election has therefore turned into a political battle royale where politicians trade partisan allegiances to gain just a few votes more than their opponents or align themselves with the winning party – and where the candidate matters far more than the plate. -shape of his party. A falling out between Pacquiao and President Duterte, for example, led to the two splitting their ruling political party with little political consequence for either.

The weakening of the power of political parties has perpetuated a individual sponsorship system overseen by a wealthy elite. In the Philippines, the political machines are built around a some oligarchic families instead of political parties, and family affiliation and personal relationships act as arbiters of positions, policies, and prestige. This system led to the generalization buying votes in the Philippines, giving the wealthiest and best-connected candidates a clear advantage. It has also led to the rise of political dynasties—like the Marcos, Aquinos, and Dutertes—that can rely on family connections and name recognition to win political victories. The Marcos family’s patronage network is particularly deep: today, Marcos Jr. relies on the symbolism of the strong state and charismatic personality of his father to appeal to younger audiences who do not remember the political repression of the dictatorship era.

Given the Philippine system’s emphasis on personality-based politics, media campaigns, especially on social media, have an outsized influence on the presidential race. 72% of Filipinos get information on social networks, with sites like Facebook joining television as the main source of information. While Filipinos are generally skeptical to mainstream media, a majority of Filipinos connected to the Internet trust social media as a source of information, leaving society vulnerable to misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric. A number of politicians have taken advantage of this fact. In his 2016 race, Rodrigo Duterte ran a tightly managed social networks campaign to sell its populism directly to voters. He now continues to use Facebook to drum up support for policies such as his “War on Drugs” campaign, often by recruit trolls and spread misinformation. Marcos Jr. took a page straight from Duterte’s playbook, using Facebook as a tool to rewrite the history of his family and feed ing to a younger population. Other candidates, like Moreno and Pacquiao, have also used social media to improve their public image. With Covid-19 preventing applicants After hosting in-person events, politicians are increasingly turning to social media to share their personalities, if not their policies, with voters. Given their past willingness to abuse social media, going digital could make the 2022 campaign even more divisive than before.

While that doesn’t make for good soundbites, the ultimate winner in 2022 will face serious political challenges: the coronavirus pandemic, Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, a slowdown economyand even the very fabric of Philippine democracy. This is not to say that political positions are not actively discussed and debated in the Philippines. The political opposition is led by the vice-president Leni Robredoa human rights lawyer (and former Duterte ally) who offers a policy-centric alternative to the crass populism of Duterte or the strongman charisma of Marcos Jr. Polls show Robredo is likely to receive just 16 percent of the popular vote, far behind Marcos Jr. However, if the currently fragmented political opposition manages to unite behind Robredo or another candidateMarcos Jr’s restoration may not be so certain after all.

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