Primaries
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - February 5, 2016 - 9:00am

With cable television, it is now possible for us to peer in on how other countries do their politics.

Sometimes, I tune in to BBC and watch debates at the British Parliament, amazed at how this system of government hones the eloquence of that country’s politicians. The past few days, I found myself observing the progress of the primaries for this year’s US presidential elections on CNN more closely than I do the comings and goings of our local politicians.

Doing so proved to be a more engrossing and more edifying activity.

The primaries process is a unique feature of American elections. It enables the voters of the two major parties to directly participate in the nomination of their party’s presidential candidate. They do this either through caucuses or actual voting. Each party has distinct rules for the conduct of the primaries.

Because of the primaries, presidential aspirants are constrained to invest much more time reaching out to supporters. They need to bring their campaigns to all the states, organize networks of volunteers to woo party supporters and define their policy positions along the way.

It might seem a protracted and expensive process. But the primaries do not involve just the choice of party nominees. The process likewise defines the ideological outlook and policy positions of the parties themselves.

This election season, for instance, it is interesting to observe how the Republican Party is dragged farther to the right by its base. The leading candidates – Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – all seem to be trying to appear more conservative than their rivals. In the maiden Iowa vote last week, the strong conservative Christian vote carried Cruz to victory over Trump.

On the Democratic Party side, the surprisingly strong performance of Bernie Sanders against establishment favorite Hillary Clinton drags the party farther to the left. In an electoral setting where, since the age of Ronald Reagan, it has been nearly a smear to be called a “liberal,” Sander described himself a “democratic socialist.” He draws strong support from young voters and those from the US Northeast states and is expected to win the next primaries vote in New Hampshire.

A few months back, everybody expected Hillary Clinton to easily clinch her party’s nomination and, eventually, the election to become the first woman to serve as US president. No one expected Bernie Sanders to pose such a strong challenge with his populist, anti-business position and his advanced age.

With the Republicans, pulled by Tea Party-types, moving rightwards and the Democrats, pulled by young and urban voters leftwards, we should expect a more ideologically polarized presidential contest this November. The choices will simply become starker, representing two distinguishable futures for the most powerful nation on earth.

There is one more aspect in these primaries worth watching: the dramatic erosion in the ability of each party’s “establishment” to control the flow of events.

On the Republican side, Jeb Bush is widely considered the “establishment” choice. He has so far fared very poorly against the onslaught of archconservative contenders. 

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was presumed to have a lock on her party’s “establishment.” No one anticipated the surge of young voters now rallying around Bernie Sander’s bid.

Negative

The first negative campaign effort for the May elections was announced this week. Composed of leftwing organizations representing victims of martial rule, the negative campaign effort aims to dissuade voters from choosing vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

The latest voter preference surveys show the Marcos candidacy gaining momentum. He is currently at least tied for the lead if not outright leading the vice-presidential race, helped by young voters who might view the authoritarian episode with a more forgiving eye. This is helped by a smart campaign encouraging voters to go beyond the animosities of the past and look to the future.

The negative campaign effort raises the specter of a return to authoritarian politics should the son manage to get himself elected. That might be a specious specter, however, since historical conditions are vastly different between then and now.

Regardless of how one might view the period of martial rule, there has been some debate about whether the son should take responsibility for the acts of his father. The Bible, after all, advises us the “sins of the father should not visit the son.”

However, the anti-Bongbong effort claims the candidate was not innocent of the ills associated with the authoritarian period. After all, the son at 23 served as vice-governor of Ilocos Norte in 1980. At 26, he served as governor from 1983 to 1986.

Critics likewise point to that famous photograph of the Marcoses’ last appearance at the balcony of Malacanang Palace shortly before they were forced into exile. That photo showed Bongbong garbed in military fatigues, as if ready to defend his father’s regime by the force of arms.

Thirty years after a popular uprising overthrew the elder Marcos, government is still trying to recover billions of what is claimed to be ill-gotten wealth from the dictator’s family. Anti-Marcos activists are demanding a full accounting of Bongbong’s role in hiding the stash. Specifically, they point to Ferdinand Jr.’s own statement of assets and liabilities, suggesting that the personal net worth stated there could be part of the ill-gotten wealth.

These charges made against the son might resonate well with those who stood on the frontlines of the anti-dictatorship struggle. We are not quite sure if these will resonate as well with the younger voters who see the martial period as a distant episode.

 

ACIRC BERNIE SANDER BERNIE SANDERS BONGBONG BRITISH PARLIAMENT DONALD TRUMP FERDINAND JR. HILLARY CLINTON ILOCOS NORTE PARTY VOTERS
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