Pandemic response will be a key issue in 2022 elections


By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

RECOVERY from a coronavirus pandemic would take center stage in the campaign for the 2022 elections, according to political analysts.

The opposition might have a chance of winning if it can present a viable pandemic recovery plan, they added.

“The government’s pandemic response and economic downturns as a result of the crisis are two issues that would take center stage in the campaign season,” Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said in an e-mail.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s political opponents might try to win voters by citing his administration’s mishandling of the health crisis, she added.

Poverty, hunger and joblessness as well as rising commodity prices are key issues that will be in the minds of voters next year, Victor Andres Manhit, president of think tank Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

The 2022 elections would become a referendum on the Duterte administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

Nine of 10 Filipinos thought government response to the pandemic has been inadequate, according to a poll by Pulse Asia Research in June. Filipinos cited the lack of financial aid, slow and inefficient vaccine rollout and failure to enforce health protocols. Jobless Filipinos rose to 3.76 million in June from 3.73 million a month earlier, according to the local statistics agency. About 6.409 million Filipinos were underemployed.

A strict lockdown in Metro Manila from Aug. 6 to 20 would increase the number of poor people by 177,000, the National Economic and Development Authority has said. It added that 444,000 Filipinos could become jobless.

Mr. Duterte risked his political capital when he failed to outline his game plan against the coronavirus pandemic in his last address to Congress last month, said Dennis C. Coronacion, who heads the University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department.

“Since President Duterte has failed to do this, I expect most of the presidential aspirants to fill the gap and craft their own economic recovery programs,” he said in a Viber message.

“The upcoming election will not just be a referendum on President Duterte’s pandemic response but also on his entire platform of government,” he added.

Mr. Duterte’s popularity might not get severely eroded given how loyal his core followers are, media research expert Jay G. Bautista said in an e-mail.

“The recent political surveys have shown how strong his equity is by ranking in the top three regardless of who among the major opinion polling agencies had conducted the research,” he said. “His followers believe he has done all he can and he is not to blame.”

The tough-talking leader’s popularity is rooted in his consistent rhetoric, which makes people believe that other people are the problem and not his administration or his policies, Jean S. Encinas-Franco, a UP political science professor said in a Viber message.

Gerardo V. Eusebio, a political science professor at De La Salle University, traced Mr. Duterte’s popularity to a weak and divided opposition.

“The real challenge for the opposition is how to break the overwhelming support for Duterte from two interlocking voting blocs — the Mindanao and class E voters scattered on the country’s three major islands,” the campaign strategist said in a Viber message.

The trend may change if the country’s economic situation worsens up to the fourth quarter or extends into the first quarter of 2022, Mr. Bautista said.

Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center, said public disappointment about the government’s pandemic response could weaken Mr. Duterte’s popularity and galvanize support for opposition candidates.

“Voters’ disappointment should be enough motivation to vote for change in 2022,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “But the key here is that the vote must be based on evidence and fact.”

Mr. Duterte last month threatened to keep people who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus at home. He also threatened to have them arrested.

Critics have said vaccine shortage, not vaccine hesitancy, is the biggest problem in the government’s vaccination program.

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