The Democratic Party was expected to sweep the November 7 US congressional and gubernatorial elections, and it did. The Democrats have won a majority in the House of Representatives, are on the verge of taking control of the Senate from the Republican Party, and have won 20 out of 36 contested state gubernatorial seats.
The elections were a referendum on the Bush administration’s policies, primarily those on Iraq. But there was general dissatisfaction too with the way Bush had managed the economy. Although the US economy has partly recovered from the loss of millions of jobs at the onset of the Bush administration, analysts say that wages have remained stagnant, income disparities have widened, and economic opportunities narrowed.
Iraq was only the symbol of the average US voter’s dissatisfaction, but much of it is the consequence of the failed Bush policy on Iraq. The Bush clique knew it, but not even its timing with the elections the conviction of Saddam Hussein for crimes the former Iraqi president allegedly committed over 20 years ago could save the Republicans.
The US war on Iraq, launched in 2003 in violation of international law as a preemptive strike against Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and as punishment for his equally non-existent links with Al Qaeda, has so far cost US taxpayers some US$340 billion. But far from heralding the dawn of a new, democratic order in the Middle East, the US invasion and occupation has plunged Iraq into civil war, bred a new generation of terrorists across the Arab world, and made the entire planet even more dangerous to US citizens and interests.
The expectation is that there will be a shift in US policies on Iraq, as Bush tries to ride out his remaining two years in office on—if it were at all possible– a more sober and rational, less arrogant and less ignorant basis. While this could mean US accommodation even with such members of the “axis of evil” as Iran, and even with the Iraqi insurgent groups, the impact of such a change in the political fortunes of such of its allies as Australia and the Philippines could be far-reaching.
The news out of the US was naturally disturbing to the rulers of the country of Filipino afflictions, and Malacanang hastened to assure—itself more than anyone else—that Philippine-US relations will “remain strong,” and that, despite the changes in the US Congress—a co-equal power of the White House—US “anti-terrorism” policies will continue.
The subtexts to this announcement were (1) the Arroyo regime’s being so closely identified with the Bush regime on the basis of the “anti-terrorism” policy that any change in US policies will have an impact on its survival, and (2) the probability that, just like the November 7 elections in the US, the May 2007 elections will be a referendum on the Arroyo regime.
If the focus of electorate anger in the US was the Iraq war, the focus of Filipino voter anger in 2007 will be the general perception that the 2004 elections were fraudulent. As in the US, however, this focus will bring together such discontents as joblessness, the absence of economic opportunities, inefficient and corrupt governance, the growing incidence of hunger among Filipinos, and the general sense that there is something horribly wrong with the way the Arroyo regime has been running the country. Part of the electorate will link these issues to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s tainted legitimacy. It will reiterate in 2007, this time via the ballot, its belief that regime illegitimacy is at the root of the assault on free expression, the press, and freedom of assembly, the assassination of political activists, the effort to change the Constitution, and the show case attempts to foster the illusion of prosperity among a people ground down by poverty.
While this is only part of the electorate, much of the rest is likely to look at their current economic state—their increasing poverty as well as the inflation they can’t keep up with because of their stagnant wages and low incomes—as enough indictments of the Arroyo regime for them to vote against it.
The same prediction about the outcome of the US elections can thus be made about the 2007 Philippine election: it will be a referendum on the Arroyo regime, which, if honest and fair, should result in the regime’s rout at the polls.
If the election is honest and fair—and additionally, if the country is not so flooded with money impoverished voters will forego their desire for vengeance at the polls in favor of meeting their immediate needs.
The skeptical are likely to conclude that both are foregone conclusions. Incumbent control over the machinery of government, particularly over the military, as well as over the purse strings, made the difference in 2004 and there’s nothing in sight to suggest that it won’t be the same in 2007.
On the contrary, there’s everything to suggest that 2007 will reprise 2004. The stakes are after all as high, primarily the Arroyo regime’s survival until 2010. A regime rout at the House of Representatives and at the Senate will make Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachment at the House, and her trial before a hostile Senate, possible by the end of the year on allegations of violations of the Constitution, human rights abuses, corruption and other high crimes. Before that happens, both the House and the Senate will have a field day looking into all those scandals that because of regime dominance in the House have been pushed into the back burner, including the fertilizer scam and how much in public funds the instigators of the “People’s Initiative” spent and where they went.
All in all possibilities far from pleasant. Which is why, between now and May 2007, we can expect frantic preparations to continue to prevent a regime debacle similar to the Republican one. That makes thwarting whatever plans the regime may hatch the lead item in the agenda of the advocacy groups that want to see a fair and honest election in 2007.