Philippines faces election failure

By Reihana Mohideen

May 9, 2010 -- The country faces a possible failure of elections on May 10 due to the inability of the Philippines' elite to ensure a resolution to the political crisis through elections, and the general incompetence of a corruption ridden, elite-controlled, weak state to conduct credible elections, above all one based on a fully automated voting system.

Only five days before the elections a major test run of the equipment failed. In several precincts around the country, for example, votes cast for the opposition Liberal Party candidate Noynoy Aquino were counted as votes for the candidate backed by the government party Lakas Kampi CMD’s (Christian Muslim Democrats), Gilbert Teodoro.

In one important aspect, i.e. the public trust in the electoral commission to conduct credible elections, the elections have already failed. People are extremely distrustful of the electoral commission and its credibility is virtually in tatters. The commission is suspected of being manipulated by the president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (known as GMA in the Philippines) to serve her personal political interests, and several commissioners are known to be in the pay of GMA.

The prospect of a failure of elections has unnerved the elite, including the elite opposition. Various factions have come up with a chaotic plethora of alternatives to save the system, ranging from the postponement of elections, to a full manual count of the votes.

Arroyo, one of the most unpopular presidents in Philippines history, has faced several impeachment attempts, the wrath of a mass movement that has persistently called for her ouster and several military mutinies by junior officers opposed to her government. She has survived, partly due to her ability to buy off a majority in congress through her plunder of presidential resources, while the sullen anger of the masses against the government has grown.

If she no longer controls government, she will face a number of corruption and plunder charges that will see her convicted and jailed, as was the case with former president Estrada. Therefore there’s a very strong possibility that she will manipulate the election results to hold onto power indefinitely. This could include changing the constitution to install her as a prime minister, thereby extending her control of government and protecting the interests of the Arroyo political dynasty.

The failure of the May 10 elections could lead to the explosion of another political crisis. While Noynoy Aquino leading the "yellow forces" has indicated his support for "people's power", there is also a question mark about the capacity of Noynoy Aquino and the Liberal Party to be able to mobilise people's power. While Noynoy has substantial middle-class support, Estrada -- who is the running second in the polls -- continues to command significant support among the urban poor. Is there a possibility of a Noynoy-Estrada alliance? The political situation is chaotic and unpredictable. Anything seems to be a possibility at this stage.

Meanwhile election-related violence continues with killings reported in various localities around the country. Many of the culprits of the Maguindanao massacre – the worst case of recent election-related violence in the country, in which 57 people including 32 journalists were massacred – were initially acquitted by the justice secretary of the Arroyo government, while one of the murderers continues to vacation in "jail".

Mutinous groupings continue to exist in the military, several of them also supporting various factions of the elite. A right-wing option is also a real danger: a right-wing "general's coup", orchestrated by the ruthlessly Machiavellian secretary of national defence Norberto Gonzales.

Ultimately it is the deep divisions among the elite that drives the political crisis. The left and the mass movement are still on the sidelines, monitoring developments, but in reactive mode. If an election failure results in triggering the masses into action, this could break open the situation for the left.

A major challenge for the left continues to be its ability to force open the divisions amongst the elite. Key to this is mobilising the masses for an anti-elite resolution to the crisis i.e. sustained, nationwide, mass protests drawing the urban poor, laboring masses and the middle classes onto the streets. This needs to be based on calls that expose the true nature of the problem – the system of elite rule – and for a transitional government based on an alliance of the most consistent anti-Arroyo forces, which has as its main responsibility the clean up of the electoral and political system through fundamental reforms, before conducting credible elections.

[Reihana Mohideen is from the international desk of the Partido Lakas ng Masa (Power of the Labouring Masses Party. This article first appeared at Reihana Mohideen's website, Socialist Feminist. It is part of a series on the May 10, 2010, Philippines election, which can be read HERE or at Socialist Feminist. It has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]