Rodrigo Duterte, the perpetually controversial president of the Philippines, appears on track to increase his legislative influence in the midterm elections.
Duterte’s critics hoped the election would be a negative referendum on his administration halfway through his six-year term, but his approval ratings are approaching all-time highs and candidates aligned with him are doing well in the polls.
CNBC noted Sunday that Duterte’s approval ratings are approaching his “personal best” of 79 percent and his allies could win all 12 of the 24 Senate seats in play. According to an unofficial count taken Monday as voting concluded, Duterte-backed candidates were ahead in all 12 races and seemed certain to win at least nine of them.
This would establish a legislature strongly aligned with Duterte and unlikely to block his economic proposals, as it has occasionally done over the past three years. One example involved blocking this year’s national budget, which left Duterte’s adversaries in the Senate holding the blame for a first-quarter economic slowdown in the eyes of many voters.
With a more supportive Senate, Duterte will probably be able to pass the second stage of his tax reforms, secure more spending for infrastructure, and possibly even win the fight over constitutional reforms that would both enhance presidential power and make individual Philippine states more autonomous. Duterte, who comes from the troubled island of Mindanao, has long believed local and regional governors should have more power, while hegemonic corporations and family dynasties should have less.
The South China Morning Post on Monday speculated Duterte would enjoy only a short political honeymoon after cleaning up in the midterm elections because some of his legislative allies have their own ambitions for the presidential election in 2022, while others are apprehensive about changing the national constitution.
The SCMP spoke with a voter who explained why so many Filipinos support Duterte despite his rhetorical excesses and the brutality of his drug war, factors that were supposed to sink his approval ratings in the estimation of many political analysts:
Leila B, a manager in a multinational company, deliberately shortened a work assignment abroad so she could return home to vote.
“We need to put people in the government who are more responsible, more accountable than what we currently have, people who care more about the country and the Filipino people than themselves,” she said.
Reacting to surveys showing the Duterte bets winning, she said: “Surveys lie, no giving up without fighting.”
The first-time voter said the nation’s future was at stake. “Because if things become really bad, I know a lot of people who are considering migrating, depending on the results of the election, and they include me and my family.”
Philippine news website Rappler, which shares a hearty mutual disdain for Duterte, spent Monday cataloging social media responses from people amused, disgusted, or horrified by the midterms going the president’s way.