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Opposition told to learn from US midterm results

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINE opposition should temper right-wing populism that enabled Rodrigo R. Duterte’s rise to power by promising voters enough social protection amid economic challenges, political analysts said on Sunday, as US Democrats retained control of the Senate in this year’s midterm elections.

The preparations of opposition forces for the 2025 Philippine midterm elections should be “tied to a more general appeal to a dignified life, something that is irreducible to economic security, and involves political empowerment and sociocultural well-being,” Anthony Lawrence A. Borja, who teaches politics at the De La Salle University, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“It is a matter of making people less reliant on leaders for the realization of their basic needs and collective aspirations.”

US Democrats, who offered an alternative to the politics of far-right leader Donald John Trump, will hold onto control of the Senate after winning a pivotal race in the state of Nevada, according to BBC News.

Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives but by a very small margin — something that was unexpected as observers had predicted that economic challenges would hurt the chances of US President Joseph R. Biden’s bets.

“This electoral outcome appears to be an exception to the conventional understanding nowadays about the ‘economic vote’ — a theory of voting behavior that tells us of people tending to not support the incumbent during an economic crisis,” Arjan P. Aguirre, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said in a Messenger chat.

The results of US elections showed that American voters have denied the Trump-led Make America Great Again movement of electoral gains “needed for a Trump comeback in the 2024 presidential elections.”

Many gubernatorial candidates backed by Mr. Trump or who were considered by many  as his favorites lost, according to media reports.

In the Philippines, opposition bets offering alternative politics could “win the hearts and minds of the people by providing a workable and thriving alternative political agenda and program,” said Mr. Aguirre.

US voters named inflation as one of their most important concerns but Republicans “did not offer clear measures” to combat it, according to Jonathan Freedland, a columnist at The Guardian. Mr. Trump’s narcissism did not help, he said.

Analysts said Philippine opposition forces, which were sidelined by Mr. Duterte’s attacks on democratic institutions and push for strongman politics, should start offering alternative programs and go beyond the Marcoses. Mr. Duterte left office with high approval ratings.

Opposition groups should be “sincere in identifying a new agenda for the country, coming up with a new narrative that they can mainstream, and formulating a new strategy to engage voters,” Mr. Aguirre said.

“This should be coupled with an innovative approach in engaging the larger populace, especially the D and E classes using their language, touching on their aspirations, knowing their disposition.”

Hansley A. Juliano, a political economy researcher, said they “really have to invoke additional identity problems and hot button topics beyond the Marcoses.”

“Wider coalitions are needed. Messaging discipline is needed,” he said in a Messenger chat. “But that can be achieved not by forcing all opposition members to stick to a moderate line. It lies in emphasizing how the opposing party threatens their rights, their protections, their livelihoods.”

Mr. Juliano warned that economic issues confronting the country could not automatically work for the benefit of the opposition since many Filipinos are “identity and economic hostages to their local patrons.”

He noted that the Biden administration had managed to survive Republicans’ rabid criticism of its handling of the economy due in part to sociocultural issues, including the curtailment of popular abortion rights.

“I think the economy/purse problems were balanced by massive identity/cultural debates,” he said. “The consensus now is that the distastefulness of everything Trump related, [the curtailment of] abortion rights, and the emerging Gen Z vote is keeping it from becoming a Republican victory.”

“Personality politics, fake news, disinformation, polarization on issues, the politics of big money and populism also exist in US politics, especially during elections,” said Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

“These can be challenged by making issues and party programs relevant to different constituencies and sectors, educating and organizing grassroot movements and highlighting differences in party programs.”

She said having strong political parties with distinct programs are important in educating and mobilizing citizens not only during but before and after elections. “Grassroots and sectoral mobilization of parties matter. Parties should remain relevant and connect with the hopes and fears of constituents.”

Ms. Atienza said democratic institutions should also be strengthened and protected. “Otherwise, they can also be used by those with vested interests.”

“People must protect their rights not only during elections but also throughout the whole political process,” she said. “Citizens should participate actively in deliberations and demand accountability from parties, politicians, incumbents and challengers, even those that they support.”

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