- Roundtable:The 2016 Philippine Presidential Election
Political tsunami may be cliché, but it is difficult to find a more suitable metaphor to describe the stunning election victory of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines presidential election on 9 May 2016. An unconventional politician from the country’s southernmost island of Mindanao, whose crude comments and antics throughout the campaign courted considerable controversy, was the consummate outsider. Yet, on a platform largely devoted to improving law and order by employing draconian measures, weeding out corrupt officials and improving the lives of impoverished Filipinos who make up the bulk of the country’s 100 million people, Duterte secured 39 per cent of the vote and demolished the other, rather lacklustre candidates who all hailed from elite political families. Not since the toppling of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 had Philippine politics looked so transformative — and so infused with uncertainty and potential dangers.
The editors of Contemporary Southeast Asia asked a group of leading political scientists and economists to examine how the election was fought, and what the result means for Philippine politics, the economy and the country’s foreign relations over the next six years. Ramon Casiple kicks off the Roundtable by describing how the “Duterte phenomenon” represents a push back against the elite’s capture of politics since the fall of Marcos. Duncan McCargo provides an eyewitness account of the colourful (in more ways than one) election campaign and explains the key ingredients of Duterte’s victory. In their contribution, Ed Aspinall, Michael Davidson, Alan Hicken and Meredith Weiss explore the durability of patronage politics in the Philippines and the vital role political machines play in election outcomes. Bernardo Villegas and George Manzano go on to assess the prospects for economic growth in the Philippines and to discuss some of the economic policies Duterte may pursue. In [End Page 177] the final article, Aileen Baviera looks at the central foreign policy challenges facing the new President as tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea, and the acute dilemmas this poses for the Philippines in its relations with Washington and Beijing.
Taken together, these articles provide readers with an illuminating glimpse of the man, who, with his cantankerous personality and no-nonsense demeanour peppered with crass humour, singlehandedly heralded a sea change in Philippine politics. The election of Rodrigo Duterte signals the return of strongman leadership in domestic politics and foreign policy. In Duterte’s own words, “For every profanity, there’s a story behind it. People should go beyond my cussing.” The authors of this Roundtable have kicked off the Duterte story, with the modest expectation for others to forge ahead with their critical analysis of the Duterte Presidency. [End Page 178]