Opposition Crushed in Philippines Midterm Vote In Nod to Duterte

(Bloomberg) -- 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 favored politicians are among leading senatorial candidates, based on ABS-CBN data at 8:12 a.m. local time with 93.6% 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 Monday that his candidates’ victory would serve as an affirmation of his three-year-old administration.

Checks and Balances

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.

Opposition Crushed in Philippines Midterm Vote In Nod to Duterte

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 organization, 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, 45. “An opposing voice is necessary to keep us from going to the deep end.”

Glitches, Malfunctions

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 at 6:15 p.m. Monday once 0.4% of votes had been tallied.

The next update didn’t come until 1:19 a.m. on Tuesday, reporting almost 91% of the counted votes.Data released by the poll body to some media agencies then flipped back to a count below 50% on Tuesday morning.

A program glitch stalled the count but raw data was not compromised, said James Jimenez, a spokesman for the country’s Commission on Elections. The winners of the 12 senatorial seats will be proclaimed within the week, Jimenez said.

Policy Referendum

Duterte said those who agreed with his policies likely voted for his candidates. “If I’m repudiated by the loss of my candidates, that could indicate that the majority doesn’t want me,” he told reporters in Davao City after voting Monday.

Opinion polls have predicted that Duterte’s allies will dominate the race over a divided opposition. He hasn’t lost an election in his three-decade political career and is enjoying record high popularity despite the recent criticisms.

The opposition has remained “disorganized” and “fragmented” since the 2016 presidential elections, said Bridget Welsh, an associate professor at John Cabot University in Italy. The opposition Liberal Party and leftist groups fielded different Senate bets and campaigned separately.

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