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Opposition may need charismatic leader to win in 2022 elections

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By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE POLITICAL opposition does not stand a chance against President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s anointed presidential candidate unless it finds a unifying and inspirational leader who can rally popular support, according to analysts.

The absence of such a type of leader would be a big challenge given Mr. Duterte’s popularity, lawyer and Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center research fellow Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

The tough-talking leader has remained popular in the five years he has been in office, getting a 91% approval rating in the third quarter despite criticisms of mishandling a coronavirus pandemic, according to Pulse Asia Research, Inc.

Mr. Duterte’s six-year term ends in 2022. He is barred by the Constitution from seeking a reelection.

Mr. Yusingco said the political landscape remains a “barren lot.” “Both the administration and opposition sides are filled with dynastic politicians.”

Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo has said she might run for President next year, but the Liberal Party (LP) she heads barely has the resources and machinery.

Presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio was the top choice for both President and vice president in the 2022 elections, according to a poll commissioned by OCTA Research.

Ms. Carpio got an average of 22%, with the highest support coming from Mindanao at 48% and socioeconomic class E at 24%.

She was followed by Senators Mary Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares and Emmanuel D. Pacquiao, former senator Ferdinand E. Marcos, Jr. and Manila Mayor Francisco M. Domagoso.

Ms. Robredo was behind Senator Christopher Lawrence T. Go and ahead of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III.

Ms. Duterte has rejected calls for her to run for President, saying continuity should not be based on kinship. Her father had also rejected calls to run in 2016 despite being on top of opinion polls.

“The next few months will be a testing period for those planning to contest the presidency,” Mr. Yusingco said. “The Liberal Party may be weak now but it is one of the few older parties with members and some programs,” University of the Philippines political science professor Maria Ela L. Atienza said in an e-mail.

The party could still recover from vilification campaigns against government critics, she said. “Damage in politics, especially Philippine politics is short-lived.”

“The challenge for the broader opposition groups composed of both traditional and progressive sectors is how they can cooperate, unite and campaign for a candidate that can win,” Ms. Atienza said. “They failed to do that during the past senatorial elections.”

She added that the challenge is to replicate progressive campaigns from the local to the national level. “Otherwise, people will only gravitate toward populist politicians who do not deliver on their promises.”

The opposition would probably struggle to gain mass support until it finds a fresh face who can defeat Mr. Duterte’s hold on the popular imagination, De La Salle University political science professor Antonio Contreras said in a Facebook messenger chat.

The candidate does not have to be new and may come outside both the ruling and opposition camps, he said.

The traditional political opposition is “so weak that in order for any alternative voice to emerge, it would come from people who are not necessarily from LP,” Mr. Contreras said.

Ms. Atienza said alliances could be formed as elections draw closer. “In this country, there are no disciplined political parties, she said. “Politicians gravitate to the party where the president is or where the candidate for president appears to be the strongest.”

She noted that PDP Laban had few members before the 2016 elections. When Mr. Duterte ran under it, many politicians jumped ship at the last minute before the elections and after he won.

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