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Hearts and minds

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - June 9, 2021 - 12:00am

Any election is a battle for the hearts and minds of the voters. From recent elections here and abroad, it seems voters have made up their hearts and minds way before the candidates were officially declared.

Democracy seems to be under siege these days, even in the United States. People have developed a feeling of alienation towards a system that they think has not responded well to matters that concern them most.

In the United States, whites with no college education felt economically left behind and bought the story that immigrants are to blame. Donald Trump caught on to this resentment and built a political movement that won him the presidency and still keeps him a force to be reckoned with today.

Strangely enough, these groups don’t mind the increasing income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor. They also often vote against self-interest like affordable health insurance coverage or Obamacare, and higher minimum wage.

Trump also took advantage of single-issue Christian fundamentalists and their anti-abortion sentiments. They are staunch supporters of Trump, his hedonistic lifestyle notwithstanding.

In 2019, it was reported that the Philippines ranked in the top 10 countries with the highest amount of income inequality. But that isn’t a deciding factor in our elections.

It is fruitless to bring up economic issues that address inequality. The ordinary voters don’t understand and can’t relate. High food prices may hurt, but not enough to influence an electoral outcome.

It pains me to say it, but it seems Pinoys are used to poverty and hunger. A recent SWS survey found a record-high hunger rate of 30.7 percent (est. 7.6 million families) in September 2020. That’s hunger due to lack of food to eat – at least once in the past three months. Yet, Duterte’s acceptance rating remains high.

Why? Because Duterte caught on to what worries Pinoys more: peace and order. Duterte’s drug war responds well to what keeps many Pinoys awake at night. It seems they are willing to tolerate some curtailment of freedom and rule of law for personal security.

Even on other issues like COVID response management, Duterte manages to make his stories or excuses believable.

For instance, another recent SWS survey revealed that most Filipinos are convinced that violators of health protocols are the real cause of the current spread of COVID19. That is exactly Harry Roque’s daily story of blaming the “pasaways”.

The Duterte magic has also improved the acceptance of Chinese vaccines. Another SWS survey found 63 percent of adult Filipinos choosing the US as their preferred source of COVID-19 vaccines. But when it came to stating their preferred brand, Sinovac beat Pfizer 39 percent to 33 percent.

Indeed, a Sept 2020 Pulse Asia survey shows that 84 percent of Filipinos are happy with the government’s pandemic response. Even the otherwise clueless health secretary gained in his approval rating in the wings of Duterte’s continued support.

Where do we go from here?

Cleve Arguelles, a political science PhD candidate in an Australian university, thinks the opposition will face big challenges trying to end the Duterte regime.

“As the pandemic worsens and democracy erodes, Duterte remains popular. His blessing will still give any aspiring president a clear advantage. Duterte’s populist politics (Dutertismo) mobilizes public support through a mix of coercion and charisma.

“Over the past five years, his government has undermined democracy, human rights and civil liberties while consolidating local and national political control. With the election just a year away, Dutertismo appears to be ready for a second term.”

Duterte only got 39 percent of the vote in the 2016 election. And it distresses me that some in the opposition keep on pointing that out, as if the majority will automatically swing to their side.

Indeed, recent surveys consistently show high ratings for Duterte, well beyond that 39 percent who voted for him in 2016.

It is not enough to claim that the emerging opposition coalition represents the country’s democratic forces. That they are united against a populist president and his family to preserve democracy in this country is no guarantee of electoral victory.

Arguelles pointed out in a paper published in eastasiaforum.org that the opposition coalition 1Sambayan “is primarily made up of the old guard in the respective groups — well-regarded, but possibly out of touch with the Duterte public.

“To some the coalition’s messaging is overly moralistic and elitist. Its slogan ‘Tapat Na Pamumuno’ (Honest Leadership) resembles the lacklustre Liberal Party’s ‘Disenteng Pilipino’ (Decent Filipino) in 2016 and the previous administration’s slogan of ‘Daang Matuwid’ (Straight Path).”

Duterte has already won the hearts and minds of a sizable number of voters as the election season opens. What 1Sambayan must figure out fast is how to win back enough hearts and minds to cobble up a minority that will be bigger than Duterte’s in a four-way contest.

But are the 1Sambayan convenors up to the challenge?

“None of its main convenors have won presidential or senate elections. Even those who were previously elected have less electoral experience than their counterparts in the Dutertismo camp.

“Former representatives Neri Colmenares and Teddy Casino both lost in their Senate bids. Former Negros Occidental governor Rafael Coscuella’s last election race was more than 20 years ago.”

The Duterte administration has also almost totally bullied our formerly free press with the shutdown of ABS-CBN. The network would have been able to provide an independent view of developments to its wide audience of Filipinos here and abroad.

Look what happened to GMA-7… they removed their Malacanang reporter after he filed a story that fact-checked Duterte in one of his weekly broadcasts. GMA-7 also deleted that story from their online archives.

Almost total control of mass media is a tremendous advantage for the administration, in addition to their superiority in social media.

The opposition needs three things for a credible run: a winnable candidate, a big issue that resonates with voters, and an expertly run campaign for the mind and hearts of voters. Otherwise, the old will win again.

 

 

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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