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Philippine Voters Just Handed Duterte a Lot More Power

His party won big, and so did his daughter, who critics say is being groomed as his successor.

by David Gilbert
May 14 2019, 11:26am

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Preliminary results in the Philippines’ midterm elections suggest that President Rodrigo Duterte will tighten his grip on power, with Duterte loyalists on course to win nine of 12 Senate seats up for grabs.

With 94 percent of the votes from Monday’s election counted, nine candidates endorsed by Duterte will win seats in the upper house, while the opposition is set for a wipeout, winning no seats. Three independent candidates are on course to take the other remaining seats.

Monday’s vote saw 18,000 local and provincial posts up for grabs, including all seats in the lower House of Representatives. But most of the focus was on the Senate, which has long been seen as a bulwark against Duterte’s most extreme tendencies. Now, critics worry that the new makeup of the Senate will give the president unprecedented power.

The 24-seat Senate will now feature just four opposition senators, one of whom, Leila de Lima, has been in prison since 2017 and is unable to vote on new legislation.

Among those on track to enter the Senate for the first time are Bong Go, Duterte’s closest aide; Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, the former police chief who headed up Duterte’s war on drugs; and Imee Marcos, daughter of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Duterte, who has a staggering approval rating of over 80 percent, used his considerable political clout to help his chosen candidates, and critics believe he will now try to use that power to push through controversial legislation he had to shelve during the first half of his term.

This includes continuing the ultra-violent war on drugs, controversial tax reforms, and changing the country’s form of government from unitary to federal — which critics warn could accelerate the president’s slide toward a more authoritarian style of leadership.

Also running for re-election on Monday was the president’s daughter Sara Duterte, who won a landslide victory as mayor of Davos, a position her father previously held. While her father on Monday said she should not seek the presidency, experts suggest she's being groomed as a potential successor to her father, whose term will end in 2022.

The true winner of this election is Sara Duterte,” Gene Pilapil, a professor at the University of the Philippines, told Bloomberg. “If 2019 is the dry run for 2022, it shows us that this is a Sara ballgame.”

Cover: President Rodrigo Duterte shows his forefinger with an indelible ink to prove that he has voted for the country's midterm elections in his hometown of Davao city in southern Philippines Monday, May 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Manman Dejeto)