Philippines Votes in Law-and-Order Populist Rodrigo Duterte, ‘The Filipino Trump’

Philippine presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a labor day campaign rally on May 1, 2016 in Manila, Philippines.
Dondi Tawatao/Getty

Populist law-and-order candidate Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte has won the Philippine presidential elections in a landslide victory, marking a decided change in the political direction of the country.

While the final ballots were still being counted, Duterte’s chief rival Mar Roxas conceded defeat after tallies showed Duterte with a lead of nearly 2-1 over his opponent.

The 71-year-old Duterte—often compared to Donald Trump for his blunt, pugnacious style and defiance of political correctness—said he accepted the people’s mandate with “extreme humility,” and has attributed his success among voters to his tough stance on crime. As mayor, Duterte cleaned up the southern city of Davao, once ignominious for its lawlessness, and his hardline approach to crime-fighting earned him the nickname “The Punisher.”

Having proven himself in local government, Duterte won the support of millions of Filipinos tired of ineffective and corrupt politicians. He has promised to continue punishing criminals and rooting out corruption, a position that resonated with Filipino voters.

The government of outgoing President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino was notorious for its omnipresent corruption, and many citizens languished under extreme poverty in spite of macroeconomic growth experienced during his regime.

Duterte’s adversaries have tried to paint him as an executioner (“Duterte Harry”) and potential dictator who would usher in a reign of terror to the Philippines, and Amnesty International cautioned that he might repeat what allegedly happened in Davao, where he was accused of letting death squads execute hundreds of suspected criminals. Voters, however, either disbelieved the criticisms or embraced the move toward zero-tolerance crime fighting.

The Philippines is a very poor nation, suffering from high unemployment and poor infrastructure, and the new President will have his job cut out for him to turn the situation around. After raising hopes among voters, critics suggest that Duterte will be hard pressed not to let them down.

One thing Duterte can count on is massive support and a clear mandate to do whatever it takes to get the nation in order. He is idolized in the town where he served as mayor, and his supporters expect his success to continue unabated on the national scene.

The election saw a record turnout, with more than 81% of the 54 million registered Filipino voters finding their way to the ballots. The overwhelming voter participation suggests a deep frustration with the status quo and a desire for commanding leadership, the likes of which has not been seen in the upper echelons of Filipino politics for decades.

On being elected, Duterte doubled down on his campaign promises, vowing to end crime across the nation and eliminate corruption within six months.

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