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Which way to the united front?

As more and more candidates declare their intention to run for president in next year’s elections, it is becoming increasingly clear that an opposition plan to field a unified ticket to challenge and overwhelm President Duterte’s anointed successor is untenable.

The latest politician to throw his hat into the ring was boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao, who now hopes to parlay a stellar—and lucrative--boxing career and a lackluster track record as a legislator marked by habitual absenteeism into a successful presidential run.

Pacquiao did not start out as an opposition figure and allied himself with the President—until doing so ran against his personal ambitions. His desire to run, in fact, has created a rift in the ruling PDP-Laban, the other half of which supports Mr. Duterte’s absurd and cynical run for the vice presidency as a way to sidestep the constitutional ban on a second presidential term. This faction of the ruling party has elected to support whoever Mr. Duterte picks to be his running mate—a position that has fueled all sorts of speculation that involve, among others, his daughter and a former senator whose very name evokes memories of martial law from 49 years ago.

In the meantime, the 1Sambayan coalition of anti-administration forces has been quiet. Early on, it had ruled out supporting Pacquiao, while Senator Panfilo Lacson, who has also declared his intention to run for president again after failing twice, has declined a nomination from 1Sambayan. They may yet agree on who among six nominees named in June will be their standard bearer—but with so many other candidates outside of the coalition in the running, this will by no means be a unified front capable of overwhelming the administration ticket.

But then, the notion of a united front in Philippine politics—with the notable exception of a few cases—seems illusory.

Given the wide range of political views and ambitions and our embrace of first-past-the-post voting, as opposed to a two-round system, we have never really united around any leader. Mr. Duterte, despite the posturing of his supporters, won only 39 percent of the popular vote in 2016. The late President Benigno Aquino III won with a higher 42 percent of the popular vote in 2010, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before him won the presidency with 40 percent of the popular vote in 2004. Even the populist Joseph Estrada won with only 40 percent of the vote in 1998. Fidel Ramos won with only 24 percent of the vote in 1992, the first election held under the 1987 Constitution.

In none of these instances did we have a majority president—although many of them behaved as if they had received that mandate.

The opposition may yet pull off an upset in 2022 with a single, common slate, but history suggests that given the fragmented nature of our politics, the numbers for a truly unified front simply aren’t there.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , national elections , successor , Manny Pacquiao
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