Will Philippines revert to authoritarianism?


Filipino voters backed Rodrigo “the Punisher” Duterte more to sock it to elites than to reinstall authoritarianism. This kind of bet is becoming increasingly attractive to electorates around the world. What remains to be seen is if it’s a safe one, The Wall Street Journal suggests (HT: FPI).

Candidates who pledged to continue the Aquino administration’s reforms, saw their support tumble, with 23 per cent and 22 per cent of the votes respectively, according to the unofficial count, The FT adds.

“The reforms made in the last five years will have to be tested in this new administration,” said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist at Banco De Oro Unibank. “This is the acid test of our democratic system, a government of the people and by the people.”

Asia-Pacific analyst Patrick Cronin cited three reasons for the Philippines strategic importance, Reuters adds: its location in the “first island chain” of major archipelagos from the East Asian mainland, its status as the only U.S. ally among the South China Sea claimants and the regional focus on those maritime disputes.

“The South China Sea has become a litmus test for American staying power and commitment to the Asia-Pacific region,” said Cronin of the Center for a New American Security think tank. “If we falter over the defense of Philippine interests … then we lose credibility and (our) commitment is questioned,” he added.

Duterte’s rise-and now his election-is a very troubling sign for the country’s politics, and for democracy in Southeast Asia overall, writes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Joshua Kurlantzick:

In some ways, Duterte resembles other elected autocrats in the region and elsewhere, like Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen or former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who notably presided over his own “war on drugs” that included reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings-leaders who cared only about winning elections, after which they would undermine or destroy legal and constitutional institutions of democracy. In the run-up to Election Day, Duterte gave no signs that he would moderate his antidemocratic promises, like presiding over the killing of criminals or trying to pass policies without working through the legislature. Even if Duterte turns out to be an economic moderate, his election raises the prospect that another of the success stories of the third wave of global democratization will slide back into authoritarianism. RTWT

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