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Opinion

Crosscurrents

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Germany’s politics is a game of small gains and small losses. Analysts will spend the next few days trying to understand the tea leaves of last Sunday’s elections.

Angela Merkel’s shoes might be too big to fill. Over the last 16 years, she managed the crosscurrents of German politics quite well. The plainspoken and plainly garbed scientist is well loved and greatly respected. But even the best leaders have to step down at some point.

Last Sunday’s German vote was not really about filling Merkel’s shoes. Its ambitions are more moderate: to find the party and the politician who might best manage Europe’s largest economy into the post-pandemic future.

The main contenders were the leaders of Germany’s two largest parties: Armin Laschet of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Olaf Scholz of the left-of-center Social Democratic Party (SDP). The battle between the two largest parties was close. In the end, the SDP gained votes and polled 25.7 percent of the vote against the CDU’s 24.1 percent.

The biggest gains were posted by the Greens, who raised their share the vote to 14.6 percent – their best performance so far. The fourth largest party FDP lost points and garnered 11.5 percent of the vote. The right wing AfD took 10.5 percent while the Left party took the smallest share at 4.9 percent.

The margin between the two largest parties might seem small. But the result is considered a major defeat for the CDU – Merkel’s party. The Social Democrats will now have a first crack at building a ruling coalition.

The two largest parties may renew their coalition arrangement to gain an outright majority. The greater likelihood, however, is that the two parties will vie for coalitions with the Greens and the FDP. The third and fourth largest parties are now considered the “king-makers” in the formation of the next German government.

On the issue of climate change, however, no two parties could be farthest apart. The Greens want Germany to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The FDP, considered the voice of German business, wants to push back the goal of carbon neutrality to 2050.

Their increased share of the vote indicates German voters now give foremost priority to climate change issues as the world stumbles into a post-pandemic future. Even Social Democratic leader Olaf Scholz, who served as finance minister in Angela Merkel’s coalition government, promised a “pragmatic” government.

Unlike the Philippines where the presidential format results in a winner-take-all outcome, Germany’s parliamentary politics operated on continuing negotiations between the political parties – all of which can only manage a plurality of the vote. The indications are the old pattern of highly negotiated coalitions will continue onto the next government and no sweeping changes in policies will happen.

Cauldron

Our senators are pretty skilled in sensationalizing things and holding public hearings that are usually fishing expeditions where witnesses are bamboozled into incriminating themselves.

Recall, before the pandemic struck, Sen. Franklin Drilon tried to contrive a scandal by claiming the administration was stashing billions in the government-owned Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC). It turned out much of the money were AFP funds intended to procure items for the vital defense modernization program.

Then Drilon raised a howl over the “overpriced” cauldron built for the Southeast Asian Games the country was hosting at the New Clark City. The senator claimed that the cauldron cost P50 million. It actually cost P45 million.

In 2015, host Singapore spent the equivalent of P63 million for its SEAGames cauldron. The small city-state also spent P15 billion for hosting the prestigious international event.

For the 2019 games, the Philippine organizing committee requested for a budget of P7.5 billion. At the instigation of Drilon, this requested budget was cut to P5 billion. The Office of the President provided an additional P1 billion in funding for the games to avert a national embarrassment. The private sector pitched in additional funding to properly host this event.

In exchange for the additional OP funding, President Rodrigo Duterte asked that the organizing committee be headed by Alan Peter Cayetano to ensure prudent use of the funding.

In the face of Drilon’s fabricated controversy, then House Speaker Cayetano set aside parliamentary protocol and attended the much-hyped Senate hearings as a resource person. This is unprecedented in our legislative history.

The organizing committee saw our hosting of the Southeast Asian Games as a coming-out moment for the country, showcasing our economic achievement. Our athletes did not let us down. The Philippines emerged overall champion, winning 387 medals including 149 gold medals. The ceremonies were grand and flawless as well, a source of national pride. Soon everyone forgot about Drilon’s efforts to undermine our hosting of this event simply to embarrass the administration.

In a recent interview, Cayetano recalled this contrived controversy over the cauldron. That item, he mentions, was designed by no less than National Artist for Architecture Francisco Mañosa, one of the most influential Filipino architects of the 20th century.

Contrary to Drilon’s rant about the waste of taxpayer money, Cayetano disclosed in that interview that the cauldron was totally funded through private sector donations. No taxpayer money was used for the cauldron Drilon obsessed over. For that matter, Cayetano points out that all public funding for hosting the prestigious event has been properly accounted for to the last peso.

The 2019 SEAGames was a proud moment for our people. The politicians, driven by crab mentality, could have ruined it completely by starving the organizing committee of funds and raising false controversies.

This could still happen again.

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