Philippines: Presidential Prospects


Dr Ron May

Although figures from the Philippines' elections are not final, it now seems certain that outgoing Vice President Joseph 'Erap' Estrada will succeed Fidel Ramos as President of the Philippines. Unofficial (but government-authorized) 'quick count' figures, covering 62 per cent of voting precincts, show Estrada with 37 per cent of the vote, more than twice the vote of the nearest of his nine opponents, governing Lakas-NUCD party candidate Jose de Venecia. Estrada leads in eleven of the country's fourteen regions, in many by a landslide. Amid the customary allegations of electoral fraud and cheating, however, proclamation of the Presidential voting results may be delayed by objections from two losing candidates, de Venecia and seventh-running Miriam Defensor-Santiago (the latter an unhappy loser in the previous presidential election). Such delay could cause a minor constitutional crisis, since President Ramos is due to step down on 30 June, as are all the other constitutionally-nominated alternative office-holders. Meanwhile, Roman Catholic Church leader Cardinal Jaime Sin, who before the election urged voters to choose 'Anyone But Erap', is now calling on voters and losing candidates to accept Estrada's victory. Estrada's apparent election represents a massive win for Philippine populism over the predominant judgement of the middle class, business and the church. During the election campaign much was made of the former movie star's limited grasp of major policy issues and his propensity for gambling, alcohol and women - though it would not be the first time, of course, that a country has elected as its President a former movie actor of dubious intellectual credentials. Less was said about Estrada's links to former President Marcos. As against this, Estrada served for seventeen years as Mayor of San Juan City, six as Senator, and six as Vice President and he has been offered the services of a broad spectrum of respected economists and social policy advisers. Despite early suggestions of tendencies towards economic nationalism, Estrada has pledged to maintain the Ramos administration's push towards economic liberalization and has made an early announcement of his intention to retain the present Central Bank Governor, Singson. However, the effects of the Asian financial crisis (from which The Philippines has emerged comparatively well), will make it difficult for Estrada to fulfill his election promises of economic growth and poverty alleviation, especially as more of the Philippines' overseas foreign workers are forced to return home; serious problems of law and order remain (notwithstanding Estrada's efforts as crime-fighter in the Ramos administration); and a plebiscite on Muslim autonomy in Mindanao scheduled for later this year will test the viability of the agreement signed in 1996 by President Ramos and Muslim rebel leader Nur Misuari. In the Vice Presidential contest, Lakas-NUCD nominee Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo enjoys a majority of votes counted similar to that of Estrada. In the other 17,508 electoral contests Lakas-NUCD candidates are polling well, but the traditional politicians ('trapos') of rival dynasties are again being returned in large numbers, amongst them the eldest son and daughter of Imelda Marcos, the son of Corazon Aquino, and the son of Joseph Estrada.  

WATCHPOINT: The new administration is unlikely to be able to find early solutions to its inherited problems.


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