The Philippine Star : Homestretch

By Alex Magno | The Philippine Star

In a few days, millions of Filipinos will troop to the polls to cast their vote. This might be a watershed vote even as there is a certain sense of inevitability about the results.

Pulse Asia released its final voter preference poll last Monday. That poll put Bongbong Marcos way ahead with a 56 percent share. Leni Robredo comes second with 23 percent. The other candidates may now be dismissed as inconsequential.

Marcos’ lead was reinforced last Tuesday when the block-voting Iglesia ni Cristo sect formally endorsed his and his running mate’s candidacies. What could seal the deal will be the Election Day operations of local politicians allied with UniTeam. Nearly all the functional political parties are allied with the Marcos campaign.

Over the past few days, the polling firm has been under intense attack from those who support candidates shown by the surveys to be losing. One particularly ridiculous conspiracy theory circulating in social media suggests that pro-Marcos trolls have been farmed out to intercept enumerators from the survey firm. This insane theory overlooks the glaring fact that all the scientific surveys have come up with the roughly the same preference distribution.

Others have bandied Google Trends or any number of straw votes from college campuses and professional associations to dispute Pulse Asia’s results. All of these alternative measures are unscientific. The only function bringing them up serves is to keep up the spirits of those supporting flagging candidacies.

The merely anecdotal will always be inferior to the rigorously scientific big numbers.

One statistician, widely quoted in social media, faults the Pulse Asia survey for (supposedly) under-representing the young voters and those with college degrees. Pulse Asia president Ronald Holmes released a statement saying that if representation of both demographic categories is increased, it will further inflate Marcos’ lead.

Holmes’ reply underscores several of the many counter-intuitive trends in this particular campaign. Marcos, for instance, handily wins the AB voters and those with college degrees. He has his largest winning margins, demographically speaking, from the young voters.

After all the votes are counted, we will have to closely examine the numbers to understand the undercurrents influencing voter choices in this election. Doing so will tell us a lot about what our people are thinking and what they expect from those who govern them.

The pre-election surveys indicate a number of unprecedented developments. This is the first time in our multiparty electoral history that any candidate garnered over half the support of voters. This is also the first time the Catholic clergy has so openly endorsed a candidate currently enjoying only minority support.

This is also the first time that a major candidate (although running a far second) seeks office as an independent. There is a price to pay for that. Much as it is fashionable to cultivate contempt for politicians, they are there because they are functional in the process of vote aggregation.

At this late stage, it should be safe to say there could only be two possible electoral outcomes.

The more likely outcome, if the survey trends hold, is that Marcos wins this contest possibly by the largest margin in our political history. He will have geographically balanced support. All the political parties that matter in the legislature and among local governments are supportive of his presidency.

In sum, he will have much more political capital than Rodrigo Duterte in 2016. He will have double Duterte’s voters and a much more stable supermajority in Congress.

If he deploys that awesome political capital effectively, he could hit the ground running. Since he presents himself as the “continuity” candidate, he will have the momentum of the Duterte reforms on his side. There is much work to do, but he could quickly assemble a team that could translate his vision into a policy package.

The far less likely outcome is that Robredo, defying all odds, wins.

If she wins, it can only be by the tightest of margins. That means our society will continue to be polarized for another generation.

Having chosen to run as an independent, she has no major party backing up her presidency. She will waste the first crucial month of her presidency trying to assemble a working political coalition. To be able to do so, she will have to cut deals with the political blocs, abandoning her disdain for “transactional” politics.

Robredo has shown contempt for politicians akin to Cory Aquino’s. She defines political accommodation as “transactional.”

Her cadre of political appointees will likely come from the Catholic schools and the leftwing NGOs. These may not be the most reliable constituencies for getting government to run effectively.

In a word, a Robredo presidency will take time before finally forming a working government. It is one thing to mount large political rallies and quite another to weave into the policymaking process. Government could be at a standstill for too long during a most critical time for the economy. It does not help that Robredo’s trust ratings are dismal.

If her disposition is to reverse or dismantle Duterte era policies, the standstill could last even longer and public opposition could escalate. There is a reason why Duterte, despite all his imperfections, enjoys high trust and approval ratings. As in the case of online cockfighting, he takes things by the horns and overpowers the bull.

Regardless of our partisan preferences, we will have to agree on the value of having effective government and undisrupted leadership. Without both, the ship of state becomes rudderless.