More than 61 million voters will decide over 18,000 national and local offices, up for grabs in Monday’s midterm elections in the Philippines. The contests will serve as a referendum on the current president and his policies. President Rodrigo Duterte is widely expected to pass his first test. A victory could allow the popular populist to expand his control over the country and further tilt it toward China.
All 305 seats are up for grabs in the House of Representatives, increased from 297. Duterte’s PDP-Laban party holds 115 seats. His allies in the Coalition for Change add another 135. Duterte’s thumping majority isn’t under threat or likely to change. The House typically supports popular presidents, and at around 80% in the latest polls, Duterte certainly is.
The real action is in the Senate, which has been more resistant to the president’s agenda. Twelve of the chamber’s 24 seats are up, and Duterte’s slate could win eleven. Only Liberal incumbent Bam Aquino, cousin of former President Benigno Aquino, stands a chance at breaking through for the opposition. Gov. Imee Marcos of the Nacionalista Party, daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is also trying for a Senate seat. A clean sweep for Duterte would be a first since the restoration of democracy in 1986.
Duterte’s current actions— from his Chinese courtship to his controversial and violent war on drugs— have gathered most of the foreign headlines. Relatively little attention has been paid to what the president would do differently with his new congressional majorities. Tax reform, particularly cuts to corporate tax rates, are at the top of his agenda. He also, perhaps counterintuitively, is pushing to devolve power from Manila and spread the wealth around. Duterte wants to shift the Philippines from a unitary state to a federal form of government. This has ginned up plenty of controversy domestically.
The president couldn’t have picked a better time to enjoy the highest approval ratings of his single six-year term. Voters feel safer because of his drug war, which included a lot of extrajudicial killings, despite negative international press. Inflation has eased, and the country has seen economic growth topping 6% for the last ten quarters. The race to succeed him, three years from now, also seems to be going well. Daughter Sara Duterte will cruise to re-election as mayor of her father’s city of Davao, and is widely seen as a contender to succeed her father.