Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos wins the Philippine presidency in a landslide
THE LAST time someone called Ferdinand Marcos ran for the presidency of the Philippines was in 1986. Supporters of his opponent, Corazon Aquino, wore yellow to rallies as a visual token of their disgust with the corrupt and violent dictatorship over which he presided. The yellow crowds were so vast that when the authorities falsified the count and declared that Marcos had won, voters cried foul, eventually toppling the government in what was dubbed the “people-power revolution”.Leni Robredo, the incumbent vice-president, hoped to tap into a similar torrent of anti-Marcos feeling in this week’s election, in which her main rival was Marcos’s son and namesake. She called on her supporters to wear pink, and insisted that this “pink wave” would carry her to the presidential palace. But the tide has turned in Philippine politics. In the vote on May 9th, it was Mr Marcos who attracted a tsunami of support, winning 59% of the vote share to Ms Robredo’s 28%. That gives him the strongest electoral mandate of any president since the end of his father’s dictatorship.The result is all the more striking because Philippine politics since then has been organised precisely to avoid this outcome. The framers of the constitution, adopted in 1987, put in all sorts of safeguards to stop another Ferdinand Marcos from taking power. They were thinking figuratively, not literally, of course: they wanted to prevent an elected strongman from perpetuating himself in power. But it is nonetheless remarkable that the son of the most famous villain in Philippine politics has won a resounding electoral victory.Mr Marcos’s rise, from exile with his father to a triumphant return to what the family sees as its rightful place at the apex of politics, is the result of three main factors: a decades-long campaign to rehabilitate the Marcos name; canny alliance-building; and Philippine voters’ predilection for political dynasties. Start with the family name. Marcos senior died in exile in 1989. The family—his wife, Imelda, and their two children—were permitted to return to the Philippines a couple of years later, in theory to face charges for the enormous corruption of the dictator’s regime. Even as these prosecutions rumbled on, the Marcoses re-entered politics, starting in 1992 with a failed bid for the presidency by Imelda and a successful run for Congress by Bongbong. In the years since, the family have rotated through provincial and national political offices from their stronghold of Ilocos Norte, in the north of the country. All the while, they have tried to portray the dictatorship as a time of stability and prosperity, qualities that strike a chord with the many Filipinos mired in poverty and violence. Yet a campaign to whitewash the Marcos name would not, in itself, have propelled Bongbong to the presidency. The second factor in his success is his alliance with Sara Duterte, the daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ outgoing president. (The 1987 constitution limits presidents to one six-year term.) In polls conducted before the candidates had declared, Ms Duterte was easily the most popular putative contender for the presidency. Had she run, she would have been likely to win. It is also possible that she and Mr Marcos would have split the vote and allowed Ms Robredo to win the election. Instead, Ms Duterte decided to join forces with Mr Marcos and run for vice-president, a post which is elected separately from the president in the Philippines. With 61% of the vote, she performed even better in her race than Mr Marcos did in his.Gloria Arroyo, a former president and daughter of the man Marcos senior beat to win the presidency in 1965, helped broker this alliance. She is likely to be rewarded with the position of Speaker of the House. That Mrs Arroyo, Mr Marcos and Ms Duterte are all the offspring of presidents gives an indication of the importance of dynasties in Philippine politics. An analysis published in 2016 by Ron Mendoza and colleagues at the Ateneo School of Government in Manila found that some 70% of members of Congress were dynasts. In 2019 “fat” dynasties, or those with at least two family-members in office at the same time, accounted for 80% of governorships, 67% of congressmen and 53% of mayors.Despite the shrill claims of Mr Marcos’s opponents, however, the return of the family to the presidency does not necessarily presage a return to brutal autocracy. Ms Duterte and Mrs Arroyo will act as competing centres of power in government. And Mr Marcos has a reputation as a nice, if not particularly hard-working, man—the opposite of his father. He is likely to allow technocrats to do most of the policymaking. His record in Congress does not suggest he has much vim or many big ideas. That carries its own risks, but not those associated with a strongman.