Violence and political unrest that simmered in the months leading up to Filipino legislative elections continued unabated as six voters were killed (AFP) heading to the polls on May 14. In a macabre display of might by armed militias, more than one hundred people—over half of them candidates—have died in election-related violence (RTE) since January.
In the Philippines, where nearly a third of the population lives in poverty despite a growing economy, the public votes in elections widely considered fixed while leaders face the possibility of “people power” coups. The fledgling democracy that emerged after the 1986 overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship remains tainted by high-level corruption and persistent charges of influence peddling. Former President Joseph Estrada was forced out of office on corruption charges in 2001, and current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was nearly impeached twice over allegations of election rigging in 2004. Julkipli Wadi, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, says Filipino voters are “jaded” because “political expediency has long buried principled politics in this country” (Davao Today).
The outcome of the elections could prove crucial (IHT) to Arroyo’s career. The U.S.-educated economist’s support base in the Filipino Congress, as well as among military leaders, kept her in office in spite of impeachment proceedings. Yet she has been unable to still coup rumors and her husband left the country in 2005, hounded by allegations of bribery. Up for grabs in the elections (ElectionGuide.org) are half of the Congress’ senatorial spots and all of its representatives—as well as more than seventeen thousand local officials—at a time when Arroyo’s popularity appears to be slipping and opponents promise another impeachment attempt.
On the other hand, when it comes to elected officials, Filipinos can likely expect more of the same in a country where pedigree often matters more than policy in the voting booth. Arroyo herself is the daughter of 1960s leader Diosdado Macapagal and 160 Filipino clans have had two or more family members serve in Congress, according to a report on political dynasties by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.
In this election, the polls are also dominated by national personalities (AP). One candidate accused of a coup attempt is running for Senate from jail; a celebrity boxer hopes to win a House seat; a former truck driver, whose kidnapping in Iraq led the Philippines to pull peacekeeping forces, seeks a local council seat; and several actors are running for office. As a World Politics Watch article explains, being a celebrity serves a crucial function in a Filipino election, given that voters must memorize as many as eighteen candidate names and write each one into the appropriate field of a blank ballot. Agakhan Sharief, who seeks a local council seat in a predominantly Muslim southern province, is running under a particularly memorable pseudonym (Reuters): Osama bin Laden.