In March last year, the opposition parties of Thailand declared a boycott of the April parliamentary elections. The Democrat Party, the Chart Thai Party and the Mahachon Party claimed that the elections had been rigged by then caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and that the results would certainly be in favor of his Thai Rak Thai Party. The boycott led to the failure of elections, and eventually, to the Thai military’s taking power and removing Thaksin from office.
The opposition boycott was unprecedented in Thailand, and would be unprecedented in the Philippines. But no boycott seems to be in the horizon, either from the opposition or from the organized citizenry.
Opposition spokesmen cite, among other signs, the restrictions on visitors to Joseph Estrada, under the pretext that he has to be protected from New People’s Army assassins, but which amounts to preventing him, except for stolen moments, from conferring with opposition candidates and strategists, and from being photographed and videoed with the former.
The GO sees Estrada’s participation as crucial. He was after all elected by some 11 million voters in 1998, and among the electorate still commands, despite juetenggate, considerable following. If he campaigned for GO candidates–and the opposition is asking the courts to allow him to do so–it could make enough difference in the votes to make fraud difficult if not impossible.
The petition’s being granted is at least doubtful, however. Regime recognition of Estrada’s enduring political clout was what led it to concoct that wild story about NPA assassins. Not only would it be too much of a legal stretch to allow Estrada, detained without bail on a charge of plunder, to campaign; the regime simply won’t allow it either.
The opposition is, in any case, apparently optimistic enough not only to ask the Sandiganbayan (graft court) to allow Estrada to campaign, but also to believe that, despite the Comelec, government resources, the tsunami of money the regime will inundate the country with, and military partisanship, it could prevent fraud by, among other means, fielding volunteer lawyers at the local level to monitor the elections.
The idea of a boycott has in short never crossed the opposition’s minds. There’s no precedent for it, and without the public support that made the Thai boycott successful, it’s bound to lead to a regime victory by default.
The key is popular support. People power, not a badly thought-out and implemented boycott, intervened in 1986 to prevent Marcos from claiming another “mandate.” A variation of People Power–the Thai middle class’ taking to the streets– in fact led to the Thai boycott’s success last year.
No citizen boycott of Philippine elections has ever succeeded, and is in any event so rare the last attempt occurred two decades ago. The word is seldom mentioned today, not even in the most exasperated circles. But a large segment of the electorate is not likely to go to the polls in May anyway.
To this segment belong many of the educated who have lost their faith in the electoral process. It won’t do to give them lectures on civics. In the first place they went through high school and college seeing the country being mangled by self-serving and corrupt operators in election after election.
In the second place, most of them would rather be elsewhere, in another country where the trains at least run on time, and the politicians are more adept at pretending that they’re seeking office for God, country and people, and in mouthing platforms and programs as if they meant it.
The unprecedented turncoat-ism the country has witnessed in the last few weeks prior to the filing of certificates of candidacy has only served to reinforce the cynicism over the May elections. Unfortunately this may be exactly what the doctor ordered for the regime.
A substantial number of qualified voters’ staying away from the polls–and survey after survey suggest that it’s likely–can only benefit it. The surveys also show that regime candidates aren’t likely to make it in an honest election–which means that those who will stay home on election day would vote for the opposition if they thought it would matter.
The cynicism over elections that more than any other government since Marcos the Arroyo regime has fed could– together with Comelec innumeracy, police and military partiality, etc., etc.– assure it continuing control of Congress and the local governments this May.
The same cynicism has been in its corner since the “Hello Garci” scandal. It is the cynicism that said that, having ended up with Mrs. Arroyo and company in 2001, the country could very well end up with someone like her again, and what’s the point in going out into the streets to urge her to resign? The Arroyo regime is cynicism’s authentic child.