Duterte allies seek to dominate Philippine midterm polls

President Rodrigo Duterte’s name is not on the ballot but Monday’s mid-term elections are seen as a referendum on his phenomenal rise to power, marked by his gory anti-drug crackdown and his embrace of China. (AP)
Updated 12 May 2019

Duterte allies seek to dominate Philippine midterm polls

  • Nearly 62 million Filipinos have registered to choose among 43,500 candidates vying for about 18,000 congressional and local posts
  • The most crucial race is for 12 seats in the 24-member Senate, which Duterte wants to fill with allies to bolster his legislative agenda

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s name is not on the ballot but Monday’s midterm elections are seen as a crucial referendum on his rise to power with a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, unorthodox style and contentious embrace of China.
Nearly 62 million Filipinos have registered to choose among 43,500 candidates vying for about 18,000 congressional and local posts in one of Asia’s most rambunctious democracies.
The most crucial race is for 12 seats in the 24-member Senate, which Duterte wants to fill with allies to bolster his legislative agenda. That includes the return of the death penalty, lowering the age for criminal liability of child offenders and revising the country’s 1987 constitution primarily to allow a shift to a federal form of government, a proposal some critics fear may be a cover to remove term limits.
Opposition aspirants consider the Senate the last bastion of checks and balances given the solid dominance of Duterte’s loyalists in the lower House of Representatives. Last year, opposition senators moved to block proposed bills they feared would undermine civil liberties.
Duterte’s politics and key programs, including his drive against illegal drugs that has left more than 5,200 mostly urban poor suspects dead, have been scrutinized on the campaign trail and defended by close allies running for the Senate, led by his former national police chief Roland dela Rosa, who first enforced the crackdown when the president took office in mid-2016.
Aside from the drug killings, Duterte’s gutter language and what nationalists say is a policy of appeasement toward China that may undermine Philippine territorial claims in the South China Sea, have also been hounded by protests and criticism.
“This is very much a referendum on his three years of very disruptive yet very popular presidency,” Manila-based analyst Richard Heydarian said. “Are we going to affirm or are we going to reject the 2016 elections? Was that an aberration and historical accident that we have to fix, or is this actually the beginning of the kind of new era or new normal?“
A May 3-6 survey by independent pollster Pulse Asia showed 11 of Duterte-backed senatorial candidates and four other aspirants in the winning circle, including only one from the opposition. The survey of 1,800 respondents had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.
Duterte himself remains hugely popular, topping ratings surveys with about 70 percent approval.
While the election survey strongly indicated a favorable outcome for Duterte, there was a probability that the result could still change given the considerable number of undecided voters and narrow leads of some candidates.
Divided, cash-strapped and without a unified leader, opposition aspirants are fighting an uphill battle to capture the few number of Senate seats they need to stymie any hostile legislation. Many Filipinos seem more open to authoritarianism due to past failures of liberal leaders, Heydarian said. Such a mindset has helped the family of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to make a political comeback.
Among many dirt-poor Filipinos, however, the concern is day-to-day survival.
“Martial law is scary but we’re more afraid of dying in hunger,” Arturo Veles, a jobless father of six, told The Associated Press.
Wiping away tears, Veles spoke outside his family’s shanty in the humid squalor atop Smokey Mountain, a long-closed dumpsite in Manila’s Tondo slum that remains a symbol of the country’s appalling poverty. His asthma-stricken wife, Agnes, said that not one congressional candidate had treaded the fly-strewn and trash-littered path to their cluster of crumbling huts, probably because of the smell and filth.
Arturo Veles said the poor always suffer the most, indicating he and his wife would not vote for administration candidates. “They only see the poor, those using and selling drugs. That’s the only thing they see, not the depth of our poverty.”
Village guard Jose Mondejar, who lives in a Tondo community heavily festooned with elections streamers and posters, said Duterte’s anti-crime campaign has reduced daytime robberies by drug addicts of passing cargo trucks by about 70 percent in his neighborhood.
“Criminals once even opened fire on our village hall because we were cracking down on them,” he said. “Now you can walk around here without being pestered. Duterte’s campaign has worked.”


Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

Updated 18 October 2019

Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

  • A handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania
  • EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt ‘really embarrassed’ but urged the two countries not to lose heart

BRUSSELS: The EU has made a “historic mistake” that risks destabilising the Balkans, senior officials warned Friday, after a handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania.
There was widespread frustration and disappointment, particularly among eastern European countries keen to broaden the EU club, at the failure of the 28 leaders to agree to start formal accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana.
Leaders were deadlocked after some seven hours of heated backroom wrangling at a Brussels summit, with France alone in rejecting North Macedonia but joined by Denmark and the Netherlands in refusing Albania.
“It’s a major historic mistake and I hope it will only be temporary and won’t become engraved in the collective memory as a historic mistake,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner who has led efforts to push the two countries to reform to fit EU norms, said it had left the bloc’s credibility damaged “not only in the Western Balkans but beyond.”
“This is a matter of extreme disappointment,” he tweeted.
“To refuse acknowledgement of proven progress will have negative consequences, including the risk of destabilization of the Western Balkans, with full impact on the EU.”
North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski urged his people to push on with reform despite the disappointment, while his Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov urged the EU to come clean about its true intentions.
“If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans... the citizens deserve to know,” he tweeted.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders would look again at the matter before a summit with Western Balkans leaders in Zagreb early next year.
The summit deadlock came days after EU ministers hit a similar impasse at talks in Luxembourg — following two earlier delays by EU countries on making a decision.
Apart from France, all the other EU states accept that North Macedonia has made enough progress on reforms — including changing its name from Macedonia to appease Greece — to start talks.
But Albania has less support, with the Netherlands and Denmark joining France in voicing serious reservations about its efforts against corruption and organized crime.
Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein said the summit failure was “extremely regrettable.”
“I have spoken to the two prime ministers to express my great disappointment, and they are also extremely disappointed,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“This is not a good sign for the solidarity of the EU or the stability of the region.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt “really embarrassed” but urged the two countries not to lose heart, saying he had “absolutely no doubt” they would one day join the bloc.
“Both countries, they passed their exams, I can’t say this about our member states,” Tusk said.
The European Commission has said both countries have done enough to at least begin talks, but Macron now says this should not happen until the whole accession process has been reformed, arguing that it does not work properly.
But diplomats suspect the French are playing tough for domestic political reasons linked to immigration, and there is frustration that Macron appears to be trying to move the goalposts.
“These countries deserve it, they fulfil the criteria, the momentum is right,” said one diplomatic source.
“It’s not fair to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game.”
Another said “there’s no logic to it. It’s incoherent — an excuse.”
After the earlier failure in Luxembourg another diplomat accused France of “repeating the same stupid arguments again and again,” warning Paris would bear “responsibility for the consequences of this.”
Politicians in North Macedonia and Albania have warned that their people’s patience with the EU is not unlimited and repeated rejections risk emboldening nationalist and pro-Russian forces.