: Herd immunity against bad government

30 April 2021

By Segundo Eclar Romero |

Getting new and deactivated voters registered to vote in the May 2022 elections is just like campaigning to achieve herd immunity from an unresponsive, incompetent, and corrupt government. The more eligible voters who register and vote, the more robust the political mandate the newly elected government receives.

So far, there are 58 million voters registered for the 2022 elections. There are an estimated 73 million Filipinos of voting age. This means some 15 million additional voters (20 percent) can be registered. The Commission on Elections said in February that it was targeting only 4 million new registrants before the Sept. 30 voter registration deadline, of which 1.3 million were already counted as registered. Senators Kiko Pangilinan and Imee Marcos questioned these low targets set by the Comelec.

It is no wonder that there has now emerged a broad Eleksyon 2022 Koalisyon to get at least 7 million youth and deactivated voters registered for the May 2022 elections. The Koalisyon’s “Regi To Vote” campaign should be able to generate a groundswell of support, considering that campaigning to register voters is a civic endeavor and not a partisan political activity. But this civic and political inoculation drive is being hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Comelec has suspended voter registration for the rest of April because of the MECQ in the Mega Manila area.

The 2016 elections told us that the structure of the political contest matters. When too many candidates for the presidency run, the likely result is a presidential mandate by a mere plurality of the vote. The absence of a presidential run-off, as in Indonesia and other countries, withholds the solution to this infirmity in the presidential mandate.

The 2019 midterm elections that the political opposition lost were a confirmation of the continued sway of President Duterte over the electorate. They were also an opportunity for soul-searching for the opposition, to learn painful lessons.

The 2021 Palawan plebiscite showed that elections can be successfully held under pandemic conditions. Surprisingly, the turnout of 50-60 percent was higher than the 47 percent the Comelec had projected. More surprisingly, the proposal to split the province into three lost. This is largely interpreted as a win for the people and a loss for scheming, gerrymandering politicians. As such, it seems to portend some leeway for the electorate to express a wider range of choices than what is now believed, in view of the control of the Duterte administration of the tangible resources for dominating the campaign in the May 2022 elections in favor of Mr. Duterte’s candidate.

Some elections are more critical than others. When elections are likely to be hotly contested, where candidates could win by just a small margin, it is more important that the youth vote to express themselves to avoid an ambiguously thin mandate.

The last presidential and vice presidential contest was not a one-off scenario. It is likely to be repeated. Think of the agony of waiting before the Supreme Court as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal finally adjudged Vice President Leni Robredo as the winner of the vice presidential race over Ferdinand Marcos Jr. That ruling came only in February 2021, just over a year before the next elections.

The electorate is always a mixture of biases, preferences, traditions, experiences. As in many countries, the young voters in the Philippines (18-29) comprise only about 31 percent of the electorate (May 2019). The older generations (30-44 at 32 percent, and those 45 and above at 37 percent), as voters in the past several elections, are, in a manner of speaking, responsible for the kind of governance we have gotten. The youth, if they do not register and vote, will be letting other voter segments like the baby boomers make the decision for their future.

The target beneficiary of the “Regi to Vote” and other voter registration campaigns is primarily the young voters whose future depends on the electoral outcomes, more than the baby boomers. The hope is that they can provide a decisive, fresh, and optimistic outlook to the May 2022 elections. Inclusive governance where all voices count is the key to inclusive security where all lives matter, and to inclusive development where all dreams may happen.