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The Philippines in 2016: The Electoral Earthquake and its Aftershocks

from THE PHILIPPINES

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 January 2018

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Summary

Anyone familiar with Philippine politics knows that the hundred-million strong nation is very passionate about holding elections. As an election year, 2016 proved that elections remain important and complicated political events in the country. But rather than just another exercise of peacefully transferring power from one faction of the Filipino elite to another, the main outcome of the 2016 elections resembled a powerful earthquake that shifted the tectonic plates of Philippine politics. On 9 May 2016, more than 55 million voters cast their ballots in what many described as one of the most electrifying, fiercely contested, and politically significant electoral contests since the restoration of democracy in 1986. At stake were national posts for the presidency and vice-presidency, seats in the bicameral legislature, and local government positions. Expectedly, political dynasties and members of the country's elite once again dominated the polls of Asia's oldest democracy — with one glaring exception. Less than a day after voting officially ended, maverick city mayor and political firebrand Rodrigo Duterte secured an overwhelming victory in the presidential elections with almost forty per cent of the popular vote.

Electoral politics in the Philippines is a game mastered by the Filipino political class. This level of comfort was seen when outgoing Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino delivered his State of the Nation address to Congress in July 2015. With the members of the political establishment in attendance, and watched by millions of Filipinos, Aquino confidently declared that the coming elections would be a referendum on his “Daang Matuwid” (Straight Path) legacy of accountable governance. The television screen then split into three showing his likely successors — Vice-President Jejomar Binay, Senator Grace Poe, and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas III. Not invited to the all-elite affair, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was sitting on a plastic stool watching the event hundreds of kilometres south of Manila. The 2016 elections proved that even masters of the political game can be prone to miscalculation, especially during times when they think the odds are overwhelmingly in their favour.

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Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2017

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