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In 'Squid Game' as in the Presidency of the Philippines, Majority is Power

Why 1 vs 1 is better than 1 vs many.
by Erwin Colcol
Sep 29, 2021

In one episode of Netflix's latest gruesome hit, "Squid Game", it took just one vote to tip the majority in favor of one character's death, underscoring the power of "50% plus one" that has eluded Philippine presidents for decades. Except they are given powers to govern.

Elected from more than two candidates and absent a run-off, the chief executive of 109 million people is the choice of the plurality and in the end, those who did not choose the incumbent outnumber those who did, carrying with it political repercussions, analysts say.

Winning by a majority makes the victory more legitimate --- one that is perceived to come from the greatest number of people, said Alicor Panao, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines. 

“Presidents are elected by a national constituency. As chief executive, the president is the country’s chief policy architect,” said Panao.

“If the head of government is to claim popular will and provide a general sense of policy direction, it can only be justifiable if the electoral success was through a process where the winning candidate was widely endorsed,” he added.

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Vice President Leni Robredo has worked in vain to unite all opposition figures against President Rodrigo Duterte's bet in the 2022 elections, setting the stage for a multi-horse race for Malacanang and a president who lacks the mandate of the majority.

Should Robredo run (which could also result to an Eraserheads reunion), she will join at least four other candidates going against Duterte's bet, including Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Senators Manny Pacquiao and Panfilo Lacson, and labor leader Leody de Guzman.

Since the restoration of democracy more than 30 years ago, the battle for the presidency has always been jam-packed. In 1992, there were seven candidates, and in 1998, it ballooned to 10. By 2016, five candidates competed for the position. The last time Filipinos elected a president via majority vote was in 1986, albeit marred by allegations of fraud.

Why 1 vs. 1 makes sense

In an ideal setup, an election by majority of votes is the “most reasonable or fair" way to win, but this only happens when there are only two candidates for the position, Panao said. The lack of a strong party system in the country has allowed politicians to jump from one political bloc to another, or set up their own coalitions to carry their candidacies.

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“When the number of candidates increase to three or more, elections purportedly become susceptible to strategic manipulation and no longer become fair,” Panao said.

“This implies that in an election with multiple candidates, it is almost likely that the winner will not be a centrist choice or one preferred by the majority,” he added.

Sometimes, candidates who do not have a strong political base still participate in the elections just to upset what would have been clear choice between two candidates, according to Panao.

It’s exactly what Robredo wants to avoid. If non-administration candidates come together and endorse a single candidate, they would have a stronger chance of winning against the one anointed by Duterte, who is running for vice president.

“Non-centrist candidates are further motivated to join the race if those who declare their intent early do not have wide support. The reason is intuitive; one can win a race with a small vote share,” Panao said.

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Robredo is faced with the possibility of running against Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio and former Sen. Bongbong Marcos, who are also being pushed by their supporters to run for president and vice president, respectively.

How to win when it's 1 vs. many

If there would be six candidates for president next year, each one of them should be more creative in their campaign in order to stand out. They must contend with the fact that the preference of voters vary between elections, and their take on issues also shift, Panao said.

“Sophisticated candidates with equally sophisticated campaign machinery, but lack bailiwicks or coalitions, can target citizens who are perceived to be least informed, least involved, or least partisan, to make their campaigns effective,” the political scientist said.

Of course, candidates may also resort to negative campaigning in order to project themselves as better options, even as the practice itself is frowned upon in general.

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“[They can] focus on the production of negative messages that attack their opponents instead of the usual sales pitch where candidates present themselves positively before the public,” Panao said.

Because of the pandemic, Comelec restricted physical campaigning, which means candidates would have to harness the power of traditional and social media to reach voters to get their messages across.

Your choice matters

As the filing of candidacies begins, the roster of presidential candidates for next year’s elections will start to shape up. Voters then would have the great responsibility to examine those who aspire to be the country’s leader for the next six years, Panao said.

“Regardless of the number of candidates, it is incumbent upon voters not only to obtain but validate information about candidates and what they stand for,” he said.

“Voters must make it a habit to scrutinize candidates based on their political platforms, track record, past achievements as a public official, campaign pledges, and the status of past campaign promises,” he added.

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Panao reminded the public how crucial their vote is going to be, which could tread the path for the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and help bring back some semblance of normalcy.

“Although presidents in the Philippines serve a single six-year term, these are six years of curse or blessing depending on the foresight and acumen of whoever is at the helm,” he added.

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