Rodrigo Duterte gestures to members of the media at a polling station in Davao, Mindanao, on May 9. Rodrigo Duterte gestures to members of the media at a polling station in Davao, Mindanao, on May 9. Veejay Villafranca | Bloomberg

Expectations are so high, they're where the air gets thin

Official results of the Philippine elections aren't out yet, but it's clear Rodrigo Duterte is the new president.

It's not about the absolute numbers anymore, it's the gulf between Duterte, with most but not all votes counted, and his nearest rival, Mar Roxas. Duterte leads by such a margin that, if it was due to vote-buying or fraud, would be one of the biggest thefts in political history.

Similarly, with most but not all votes counted, it's already clear turnout hit record levels, comfortably above 81 percent. This makes Duterte's victory not just a landslide, but a political earthquake as well.

He's just broken the monopoly on political power that a small handful of powerful and inter-married families have enjoyed pretty much since independence.

So he's a trailblazer. But he's also set himself up, almost certainly, to fail. Having made promises he will clean up corruption within six months of taking office, expectations are so high, they're where the air starts getting thin.

Duterte needs to remember this election was a huge gamble for voters. They're trying something new out of desperation, because the recent history of Philippine presidencies has been one of almost serial failure in terms of the daily lives of the majority of Filipinos.

Perhaps this is a good sign.

"Doing the same thing over and over
again but expecting a different
outcome, Einstein said, is insanity."

And to be fair to the out-going office-bearer, President Benigno Aquino probably made more headway on improving the lot of the average Philippine person than any leader in recent memory. But the strong economic story hasn't trickled down nearly far enough. Not when 1-in-4 poverty, exemplified by Manila's horrific slums, still exists.

It's not so much a widening rich-poor gap (although this is true too); That's in larger part due to the rich getting richer, while the poor seem to be trapped at the same level of poverty the country hasn't been to grow its way out of.

It's more about the quality of growth and, consequently, the quality of life. Some peoples' financial circumstances may have improved but even the rich face the same struggles - traffic, sclerotic infrastructure, a corrupt civil service, and crime. Money just insulates them a little better.

Can Duterte deliver? It's not just the poor who voted for him who're watching whether the back-to-the-future style of government he seems to be pointing to will work. The establishment, whose monopoly on power he broke, are more than ready to gloat if he fails.

If he does, it will be the country's loss. And for more than 100 million Filipinos, who're among the most optimistic people on earth, it'll be just the latest disappointment for a people who deserve better.


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Read 2378 times Last modified on Wednesday, 11 May 2016 15:06
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