Election polls show the dictator’s son on his way to the new president

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Of: Sven Hauberg

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Ferdinand Marcos Junior is campaigning in a suburb of Manila in March. © Jam Sta Rosa / AFP

The Philippines elects a new president on Monday. Rodrigo Duterte’s successor was also able to reassess relations with China.

Munich / Manila – Next Monday is a holiday in the Philippines. Whether there is anything to celebrate for the approximately 110 million people in the island state will probably only become clear in the coming weeks and months. Because on Monday (May 9), the Philippines will elect a new president. The incumbent Rodrigo Duterte cannot run again after a six-year term. As one of his last official acts, the highly controversial president declared election day a public holiday a few days ago – it was to allow the country’s citizens to “exercise their right to vote properly”, as Duterte said.

The post of Vice President and thousands of candidates at the local level are also up for election. It could be a fateful choice for the Philippines, which will change the country’s course in the coming years. The vote could “end democracy in the Philippines,” writes analyst Joshua Kurlantzick of the American think tank Council on Foreign Relations. For with Ferdinand Marcos Junior, called “Bongbong”, a candidate with “anti-democratic tendencies” has the best chance of moving into the Malacañan Palace, the seat of the President of Manila. Polls put Marcos Junior at 56 percent, his closest rival, current Vice President Leni Robredo, at 24 percent.

Philippines: Marcos, son of dictator, rewrites history

“Bongbong” is the son of former ruler Ferdinand Marcos Sr., who ruled the country from 1965 to 1986, first as a democratically elected president, later as a dictator and under martial law. Marcos Sr. plundered his country’s coffers, had thousands of people tortured or executed, and fled – after destroying the Philippines’ economy – eventually to the United States with his wife, Imelda, who was notoriously forest-dwelling. He died in Hawaii in 1989. Today, at the age of 92, Imelda lives in the Philippines again.

For many Filipinos, it was all a long time ago. The population of the predominantly Catholic country is young, half of the voters allowed to go to the polls on Monday had not yet been born when Marcos Sr. left the country. His son knows how to use this for himself. On social media, “Bongbong” speaks directly to them and spreads its own version of the story there. Marcos spreads misinformation and serves up the narrative that everything was better in the past. In a country where the population is online on average ten hours a day, the lies spread on the internet are disappearing fast. »The legend of ‘golden years’ was spread under the dictatorship. And: that only a strong leader can provide the answer to economic challenges and the fight against poverty and security problems, «says Regina Sonk from the Society for Endangered People.

Philippines: Marcos and Duterte campaign against elites

Together with Sara Duterte, daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, who wants to be elected vice president by a separate vote on Monday, Marcos Junior is campaigning against the existing elites – “even though both candidates are members of this elite”, as Bill Hayton says. the British think tank Chatham House. 82 percent of Filipinos describe themselves as poor or say they live on the brink of poverty. “Although official statistics show a marked reduction in poverty over the past 15 years, the percentage of the population who feel poor relative to the rest of society has hardly fallen,” Hayton writes in an analysis. Marcos and Duterte know how to take advantage of this feeling of being left behind. Even though, as Hayton says, nothing will change for these people if the duo wins the election for the poor.

Marcos’ main opponent Leni Robredo, who has made a bright pink color in his election campaign, hardly gets through with his messages. “She has failed to reach out to poorer voters or convince them that she has a convincing program to improve their lives,” Hayton said. While Marcos promises major infrastructure projects under the slogan “Build, build, build!” Robredo will fight corruption in the country and, as she says, protect democracy in the Philippines. As vice president, she was Rodrigo Duterte’s opponent, she had repeatedly condemned his brutal fight against drugs for which thousands have fallen victim. However, she has probably too late acknowledged that the election campaign is primarily taking place on the Internet. Now, in the last few meters, she is trying to convince the population with a classic street election campaign.

Vice President Leni Robredo is campaigning in Manila.
Vice President Leni Robredo is considered Marcos’ most promising opponent. © TAN / AFP

Philippines and China: The South China Sea Problem

Also in Beijing, one should follow the coming Monday closely. After six years in office, Duterte leaves an ambivalent relationship with his overwhelming neighbor to the north. At the beginning of his presidency, he still tried to maintain close ties with China, claiming it was “time to say goodbye to Washington.” The United States is a traditional ally of the Philippines and operates several important military bases in the country. In 2016, Duterte visited Beijing; During a phone call with the outgoing President of the Philippines just a few weeks ago, Head of State and Party leader Xi Jinping described the visit as a “milestone”, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently summed up that Duterte “has pursued a resolute, friendly policy toward China, since he joined.

Observers see it differently. Because Duterte’s China euphoria had quickly evaporated. Investments that Beijing had promised did not come. Above all, however, a border dispute in the South China Sea is straining for relations between Manila and Beijing. China claims a large part of the territories off the Philippine coast for itself and ignores a ruling by the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration, which ruled in favor of the Philippines in the dispute in 2016. The Philippines repeatedly accuses the Chinese government of intimidating its own coastguard with maneuvers in the disputed area and pushing Philippine fishing fleets away.

Philippines: A country between China and the United States

In a speech in March, Huang Xilian, the Chinese ambassador to Manila, said in a speech that “the issue of the South China Sea should be a stepping stone, not an obstacle, to the development of relations between China and the Philippines.” Ferdinand Marcos Junior is said to be more pro-Beijing. The candidate “has always had good relations with Beijing and can try to woo China again and launch more Beijing-backed infrastructure projects,” says analyst Joshua Kurlantzick. However, this is counteracted by the fact that in recent years China has become extremely unpopular among the Philippine people. “Bongbong” rival candidate Leni Robredo, on the other hand, took a tough stance on China during the election campaign, insisting that Beijing finally recognize the 2016 verdict.

During his speech in March, Beijing’s Ambassador to Manila also said something that can certainly be understood as a threat: “It depends entirely on our own decision whether the South China Sea is a challenge or an opportunity, a problem or a blessing.” Huang Xilian probably aimed not only at the Philippines but also at the US.Because the Indo-Pacific region is becoming increasingly important to Washington.A president Marcos, who is more oriented towards China, should also become a problem for the US. (sh)

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