Why Leni is garnering huge endorsements
Over the weekend, Hungary staged one of Europe’s most contentious elections in recent memory. Populist strongman Viktor Orbán, who has dominated the post-communist state for the past decade, was aiming for his fourth consecutive term as Hungarian prime minister. Overall, many observers viewed another victory for Orbán, under his far-right Fidesz party, as a foregone conclusion.
After all, the populist leader has managed to change the very rules of the game in his favor. Analysts say the country’s media landscape is dominated by state-run media, as well as oligarchic proxies, while electoral constituencies have been heavily manipulated to give disproportionate representation to administration supporters. In fact, Freedom House, a leading think tank, doesn’t even class Hungary as a full-fledged democracy.
Nevertheless, the opposition managed to give the ruling party an uphill battle ahead of the elections. Last year, their Czech counterparts fired right-wing populist Andrej Babis by, according to the New York Times, “[ting] ideological differences set aside and brought together to oust a leader they fear has eroded the country’s democracy. This inspired the creation of the “United for Hungary” coalition, which brought together a wide range of liberal, socialist, green and even conservative parties under one ticket.
So in both the Czech Republic and Hungary, as in other beleaguered democracies, a multi-ideological opposition coalition heroically built a united front against a budding autocrat through thick and thin. Now compare that to the Philippines, where half a dozen opposition candidates are challenging a well-oiled and grassroots “UniTeam Alliance,” which is made up of the twin pillars of illiberal politics in the Philippines.
This largely explains why the son of the ex-dictator, having rallied to him the loyalist votes of the “Strong North”, as well as the pro-Duterte votes of the “Strong South”, enjoys a considerable lead in the polls. . Nonetheless, Vice President Leonor “Leni” Robredo has racked up endorsements right and left, including from pro-administration stalwarts.
I believe there are three reasons behind this seemingly paradoxical situation. For starters, Leni emerged as the preeminent opposition leader, especially as other budding opposition candidates fizzled out. Even though some candidates have refused to step down, despite earlier suggestions to rally behind the most competitive opposition candidate near the end of the race, Leni stands out as the most compelling alternative to a Marcos 2.0 regime. .
No other candidate, and arguably even the front-runner, has managed to mobilize the kind of “big rallies” that have graced Leni’s campaign across the country in recent weeks. As the race enters its home stretch, there is no shortage of passionate volunteers and dedicated donors. Clearly, the level of enthusiasm behind his presidency is reaching new heights.
Second, fault lines are beginning to appear within the ruling coalition. Mindanao’s so-called “Solid South” has clearly closed ranks behind its running mate, former Davao Mayor Sara Duterte. But the same electoral bloc is clearly not so “solid” behind Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
On the one hand, many people in Mindanao, including the current president, believe that Sara, who conducted pre-election presidential polls, should have run for the highest office instead. Moreover, many remember the darkest days of martial law, which saw destructive wars and brutal repression across Mindanao. Not to mention that no less than President Duterte has described the current frontrunner, who relies on the (largely imaginary) achievements of his ancestors, as a “weak leader”.
Finally, there is the issue of polls. Historically, authoritative polling companies such as Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations have done an impeccable job of correctly projecting the likely winners of previous high-stakes races, including Leni’s victory in the hotly contested 2016 election. These are, after all, bastions of institutional integrity and professional independence.
In our unprecedented climate of fear, misinformation and polarization, however, even the best investigations can have certain limitations. Clearly, the normal dynamics of electoral protest have been thrown out the window. And there are millions of voters, including first-time voters, who are likely still struggling to make up their minds amid the thick fog of confusion and slander. This means that there could be a large number of ‘favourites’ and undecided voters who could still change their minds in the weeks to come. So the actual race could be a lot more competitive than the macro surveys suggest.
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