Allies of President Rodrigo Duterte are set to dominate the Philippine senate after a midterm election marred by technical glitches including a stalled vote count.
Nine of Duterte’s favoured politicians are among leading senatorial candidates, based on ABS-CBN data with 93.6 percent of the votes reporting. The likely winners of the 12 Senate seats include his former aide Bong Go and Ronald dela Rosa, the police chief who oversaw Duterte’s war on drugs. Senator Bam Aquino, the only opposition candidate who had been within striking distance of a seat based on early results, dropped to 14th place.
Duterte triumphed despite global criticism for an anti-drug campaign that has killed thousands and for his government’s increasing pursuit of its critics, including independent journalist Maria Ressa. He said that his candidates’ victory would serve as an affirmation of his three-year-old administration.
A victory for his senate allies could speed up policy implementation, including tax reform and Duterte’s plan to move the country to a federal system of government. But it could also have negative implications for Philippine democracy by removing one of the last checks on the 74-year-old’s power.
More than 18,000 government positions, including half of the 24-seat Senate and about 300 House of Representatives posts were elected in the midterm vote.
Incumbent senators have investigated Duterte’s drug war, and also blocked controversial measures including his federalism push and his plan to reinstate death penalty.
“Since Duterte has seized control of the lower house through pork-barrel politics, stacked the high court with loyalists and launched assaults on media outlets, the Senate is the last real roadblock to him further eroding democracy in the Philippines,” said Lee Morgenbesser, a Southeast Asia expert at Griffith University in Australia.
For voter Ruth Santos, who works at an international disaster relief organisation, a strong opposition in the Senate could provide necessary checks and balances.
“Even those with the best intentions, if given too much power will start to think they’re infallible,” said Santos.
The vote was marred by glitches. Hundreds of voting machines malfunctioned on election day, delaying the vote in many areas. And a quick count stalled for hours after providing an initial update on May 14 once 0.4 percent of votes had been tallied.
Duterte’s daughter is his likely successor
With the Philippines’ midterm elections expected to heavily favour President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies, the stage is set for his daughter Sara to seek the top post in 2022.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte — the president’s eldest daughter — has in recent years positioned herself as the next in line for the presidency, with the midterms serving as an opportunity for her to line up support within the ruling PDP–Laban party.
Rather than running as a senator, she stepped into the national spotlight
by personally campaigning
for senatorial candidates competing for the 12 available seats.
Nine of those she backed are leading in the early count.
“Duterte is grooming his daughter to be his successor,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center in Washington.
“If the elections go the way he wants, that would put his supporters in a stronger position when it comes to the next presidential elections.”