The Manila Times : Administration and opposition tasks in 2022: Strategic campaign messaging and effective base-building

24 June 2021

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times

First word

AS the nominal leaders of local political parties flail wildly to find a formula for victory in the 2022 elections, it will benefit everyone to remember the first principles and essential requirements for any group to make a difference in the election.

The US political scientist Robert Huckshorn offered in 1984 a rigorous definition of a political party that will help voters distinguish between pseudo-parties and ragtag bands that now dominate the country's political skyline.

Huckshorn said "a political party is an autonomous group of citizens having the purpose of making nominations and contesting elections in the hope of gaining control over governmental power through the capture of public offices and the organization of the government."

Four elements of a political party

He identified four explicit elements in a political party.

The first concerns the objective of parties: to gain control over governmental power through the capture of public offices and the organization of the government.

The second concerns methods: "making nominations and contesting elections…and organizing the government."

The third is competition, expressed in the contesting of elections and the hope (as opposed to the certainty) of gaining control.

The fourth element is that the group of citizens is autonomous (self-governing).

At the extreme, these criteria appear to disqualify the parties of one-party states, like Singapore and China.

The implicit element in Huckshorn's definition is that the group of citizens has some level of coherence that allows them to coordinate their actions and to maintain an identity over time. While this does not require a formal organization, it certainly is facilitated by one, so that both some minimal levels of organization and some minimal levels of unity have become part of the definition of a political party.

Functions of political parties

Equally important are the explicit functions that political parties serve in a modern democracy, particularly electoral politics.

Richard Katz, the author of the chapter on political parties in Oxford University's book on comparative politics, lists the following as the key functions of a political party:

  1. Coordination - maintaining discipline and communication within the parliamentary caucus
  2. Conducting electoral campaigns and structuring competition
  3. Selecting candidates for elective office and recruitment of personnel for appointive office
  4. Representing and speaking for their members in front of government agencies.

Few candidates for president in 2022

In the presidential election every six years that the Philippines has held under the1987 Constitution, there are normally more eager aspirants than serious and credible candidates for the presidency.

But today, for the 2022 election cycle, there are few aspirants for the presidency who can withstand public scrutiny long enough to remain the subject of talk.

Most are daunted by the challenge of the campaign and the demands of the office. When they see tough-talking President Duterte reduced to incoherence by the job, most wannabes turn tail.

The current political situation is very fluid and tentative because neither the administration nor the opposition has done the hard thinking and hard work of organizing its base and sharpening its campaign message for 2022.

Post-Duterte Philippines

The certainty of President Duterte's departure from office next June has crimped and narrowed Filipino politicians' thinking about the future. Instead of opening new vistas and visions of national leadership, the imminent succession has sent the country into a rabbit hole.

Political leaders of the dominant political party, the PDP-Laban, and members of the Duterte administration, are seeking desperately for a way to keep their positions - by hallucinating about a Duterte-Duterte ticket for 2022. There seems to be no willingness to contemplate a post-Duterte era.

The political opposition, led principally by the Liberal Party, is faring no better. Even with a vice president in office, it is taking gingerly steps forward. Vice President Leni Robredo looks genuinely terrified by the challenge of running for president.

The 1Sambayan coalition has been loudest in mounting a determined challenge against Duterte forces. But after its initial political salvos, 1Sambayan seems to have taken several steps back. It looks more like an interest group than a political party for the elections.

An interest group, say the political scientists, is an organization of individuals who share common political goals and unite for the purpose of influencing public policy decisions.

The chances of a group breaking away from the administration coalition and leading a challenge to the Duterte forces have increased because of the recent moves of Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd to expand the Nationalist People's Coalition. But the NPC does not look like a full-fledged political party either. But it has a few bodies to point to. And they are leaning more towards running Sen. Panfilo Lacson for president.

The LP president, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, has also started exploratory talks with other parties for a coalition in 2022.

Essentials for successful campaign

Whether administration or opposition, each political group to have any chance of success in 2022 must produce two essentials for a successful campaign.

First, it must deliver a credible and effective political message that will resonate with the people in the campaign.

And second, it must build a strong base of electoral support for the campaign and expand its appeal to other groups.

Campaigns need more than just strong personalities to succeed. They need to develop a message through a deliberate and strategic process of identifying the key problems and issues in election, and then crafting a coherent set of policy ideas for solving them.

It is infantile to simply cry out against graft and corruption and against crime and lawlessness.

The campaign must talk seriously and earnestly about improving people's lives and communities through specific government action.

An election campaign will have a chance to win if it makes people feel that their interests are connected to the campaign's success.

The base is the core group of people to support a campaign. Campaigns face the challenge of growing its base of supporters through various activities like registering new voters.

In an electoral campaign, base-building begins with the candidate, and depends on his or her ability to galvanize and inspire people.

A campaign must methodically nurture its base and expand the level of support by working closely with different communities of voters.

Administration's advantage

A decision by Duterte forces to campaign for another six years of a Duterte administration will be open to heavy fire in the campaign. It will have the effect of galvanizing and uniting a public clamor for political change.

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, if paired with a young and rising politician, could be a strong candidate. But Sara must forge her own political message, she should free herself from the burden of defending the Duterte administration, of which she was not part.

An opposition campaign riveted solely on a message of "no more Duterte" will be similarly limited. The Duterte government has maintained its popularity and support among the people. It has the resources of the government behind it to make a major difference in the election. However, a serious critique of the failed policies of the administration will more likely resonate.

Opposition union of forces

At some point, it is likely that opposition and independent forces will be impelled to forge a union of forces for the 2022 elections. The NPC and LP will get together. 1Sambayan will wise up and change its game. Senator Lacson will no longer be content to be just a naysayer in national politics.

The union of forces will be taken more seriously than the laughable Otso Diretso ticket in 2019.

The administration coalition can also unite with other parties and political groups for 2022, given its advantage in resources.

A Sara Duterte-Carpio vs Panfilo Lacson face-off in 2022 could be electrifying. It will waken everyone to join the fight. Even China and the US might get involved. The hideous pandemic might finally flee the land.