Duterte allies seek to dominate Philippine midterm polls
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s name is not on the ballot, but today’s midterm elections are seen as a crucial referendum on his rise to power with a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, unorthodox style and contentious embrace of China.
Nearly 62 million Filipinos have registered to choose among 43,500 candidates vying for about 18,000 congressional and local posts in one of Asia’s most rambunctious democracies.
The most crucial race is for 12 seats in the 24-member Senate, which Duterte wants to fill with allies to bolster his legislative agenda. That includes the return of the death penalty, lowering the age for criminal liability of child offenders and revising the country’s 1987 constitution, primarily to allow a shift to a federal form of government, a proposal some critics fear may be a cover to remove term limits.
Opposition aspirants consider the Senate the last bastion of checks and balances, given the solid dominance of Duterte’s loyalists in the lower House of Representatives. Last year, opposition senators moved to block proposed bills they feared would undermine civil liberties.
Duterte’s politics and key programmes, including his drive against illegal drugs that has left more than 5,200 mostly urban poor suspects dead, have been scrutinised on the campaign trail and defended by close allies running for the Senate, led by his former national Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa, who first enforced the crackdown when the president took office in mid-2016.
Aside from the drug killings, Duterte’s gutter language and what nationalists say is a policy of appeasement towards China that may undermine Philippine territorial claims in the South China Sea, have also been hounded by protests and criticism.
“This is very much a referendum on his three years of very disruptive yet very popular presidency,” Manila-based analyst Richard Heydarian said. “Are we going to affirm or are we going to reject the 2016 elections? Was that an aberration and historical accident that we have to fix, or is this actually the beginning of the kind of new era or new normal?”
A May 3-6 survey by independent pollster Pulse Asia showed 11 of Duterte-backed senatorial candidates and four other aspirants in the winning circle, including only one from the opposition.