Two elections

US President Obama voting (White House Photo)
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AS ANNOUNCED by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the official election season began last January 10 and will end on June 8 this year. It includes a campaign period starting February and ending in May; election day itself on May 9; the counting of the ballots; and the official proclamation of the winning presidential and vice presidential candidates and their inauguration.

Some cynical souls lament that the results of the triennial exercise—the election of the same scoundrels, incompetents, crooks and clowns and/or their clones—do not justify the 150 days allocated for it. But the unofficial period for campaigning for office is actually far longer, in many cases consisting of the entire three years between congressional and local government elections, and, for the presidential election, the six years during which the previously elected president sits in Malacañang.

One could say the same about the United States. Like its former colony, the US is holding presidential elections this year (on November 8), except that the politicians there have their eye on the presidency for four rather than six years, using the time, depending on their affiliations, to either paint the incumbent as unworthy of the post, or as God’s gift to the US and all of humankind.

No electoral commission declares the start of the US election season, and it runs much longer than the official season in the Philippines because of the complexity of the process through which the president is elected. The process includes state primaries and caucuses during which delegates to the two parties’ conventions are elected; mid-year conventions; debates among the contenders; the election of “electors” for the Electoral College; and the election itself. It’s a process that’s been described as “bizarre,” among other labels, but, for the purposes of that country, has worked for hundreds of years.

This year, however, it’s not only the process but the number of contenders for the US presidency, the contenders themselves, the views some of them have expounded, and the reaction of the electorate, that have made that adjective apt. At one point there were seventeen contenders for the Republican nomination, with this number being reduced to 12 when five dropped out. On the Democratic Party side, there were six initially, that number being reduced to half when three withdrew.

Among the Republicans the most bizarre candidate is the billionaire celebrity Donald Trump, whose views on such issues as immigration, terrorism and the state of US military power have elicited the condemnation of even some of his fellow Republicans. If elected, Trump has vowed to compel Mexico to build at its expense a wall to keep Mexican immigrants, whom he has described as rapists and criminals, out of the US.

He has proposed a total ban on Muslim immigration, which would constitute a religious test in violation of the US Constitution. He has also suggested that some kind of identification be devised that all Muslims in the US should have on their persons at all times—a plan reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s compelling Jews within the territories under its control to wear the Star of David. Trump claims that global warming is a hoax. He is also against same sex-marriage, which all US states now allow, and has inveighed against “political correctness”.

Trump also claims that the US has become “soft,” by which he presumably means when it’s dealing with its perceived enemies. It’s a description the victims of US drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the 12 doctors and 10 patients killed during a US bomb attack on the Kabul hospital of the medical NGO Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) would have every reason to challenge. But the implication is clear: if he’s President, he will be “harder” on the world, very likely by intensifying US bombing of those countries he and its other rulers don’t like.

Trump sounds like a racist and a crypto-fascist, and seems as clueless as a doorknob as far as human rights, democracy, and the state of the planet is concerned. But what’s even more curious than his views is how his outrageous plans should he be elected president of the United States have been welcomed by most US Republicans and even some Democrats: Trump is the current front-runner among the contenders for the Republican nomination.

But it’s not really surprising that this should be happening, say two conservative political scientists. The Republicans, say Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, are primarily responsible for the “politics of extremism” that has made US politics dysfunctional.

“The GOP (Grand Old Party) is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition,” say Mann and Ornstein.

One can’t say the same of the Philippine political formations we loosely call “political parties,” these being, in the first place, indistinguishable from each other in terms of either ideology, platforms (if any), and even personalities, since the politicos that comprise them migrate from one group to another with the same nonchalance with which they change their barongs (or ternos).

In one respect, however, the 2016 elections in the Philippines are as bizarre as their US counterpart. Five individuals are running for president, but six others are vying for the second highest post, with one of the latter running without the benefit of a presidential partner.

Among the former, Grace Poe—the adopted daughter of the late movie idol Fernando Poe Jr. and his actress wife—is a former US citizen who has reclaimed her (presumably) Filipino citizenship. She is in the throes of fighting off disqualification cases focused on her citizenship.

Her fellow front-runner Jejomar Binay is the current vice president and was once in the cabinet of President Benigno Aquino III. But he’s running as an oppositionist and under a cloud of corruption accusations that in another country would have led an individual in the same predicament to drop out of the race altogether.

Rodrigo Duterte, who’s either the second or third choice of the electorate depending on which polling firm you consult, is running on a law-and-order platform that if implemented would lead to less law and more disorder, and whose most recent brainstorm has yielded a promise to lease islands to multinational corporations if he’s elected.

Miriam Defensor-Santiago claims to have recovered from stage four lung cancer, but seems to be sitting out the campaign behind the ten-foot high walls of her La Vista residence.

President Aquino III’s Chosen One, Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, who has vowed to continue Aquino’s supposedly straight path of governance, is apparently running on the say-so of his broadcaster wife and his mother.

Among the vice presidential hopefuls only Ferdinand Marcos merits mentioning, if only because of the dire possibility that he might be elected this year to the second highest post and to the presidency in 2022—presumably to the rest of the world’s chagrin, wonderment and concern.

The world, however, would be better occupied with developments in the US electoral scene. What happens in the Philippines affects only its unhappy people, while what happens in what Barack Obama crowed in his final State of the Union address is “the only superpower” left affects the fate of millions all over the planet, as those millions have indeed been discovering over the last 100 years of the US empire.

It’s not just Trump the world’s millions have to fear, but whoever else is elected this November. What’s merely curious in the Philippines stays in the Philippines. But what happens in the US can lead, and has led, to the most terrible catastrophes for the peoples of the world.

(First published in BusinessWorld. Image from the White House website.)

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