Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Noynoy phenomenon takes another Aquino to Philippines presidential victory

Britain wasn’t the only country to get a change of leadership this week. In the Philippines Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was headed for a landslide victory in the presidential election. His opponent former President Joseph Estrada has not yet conceded defeat but with 88 percent of the vote counted Aquino is five million votes clear with over 40 percent of the vote. Aquino has chosen not to claim victory until Congress proclaims him the winner of Monday’s election but he did say he was preparing to take over from sitting President Gloria Arroya who was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

If the name of 50-year-old Aquino is familiar then so it should be. The family has been involved in Filipino politics for several generations. His father Benigno Aquino was an opposition senator in the Marcos era who was assassinated in 1983 as he stepped off a plane in Manila after returning from exile. Aquino senior’s death pushed his wife Corazon Aquino into the spotlight and she subsequently ascended to the presidency after Marcos’s 20 year regime was ended three years later. Their son Benigno known as “Noynoy” was wounded during a failed coup attempt in 1987 but otherwise steered clear of politics during his mother’s six year presidency.

But by 1998 the lure of getting involved in the family business proved too strong and Noynoy won a seat in the House of Representatives, Philippines’ lower house. He worked his way up serving in various parliamentary committees and was elected the maximum three terms. In 2007 he moved to the Senate endorsed in TV ads by his mother. While his profile was increasing, no-one spoke of him as presidential material until Corazon Aquino died on 1 August 2009 after a year long battle with cancer. The so-called “Noynoy Phenomenon” took off as the country mourned his mother. He secured his presidential nomination against party chief Senator Mar Roxas and his presidential campaign was propelled by support from the Noynoy Aquino for President Movement a rainbow group of lawyers and activists.

The Huffington Post’s Virginia Moncrieff said Aquino appears the most unlikely person to win an election by a landslide given his “penchant for badly fitting shirts, dorky hair style, and complete lack of personal charisma.” Moncrieff called Aquino the “comfort candidate” who campaigned heavily on a message of anti-corruption. “In a country where crooks, charlatans, film stars, sportsmen and nut jobs routinely stand for, and get voted into office, Mr. Aquino represented a steady and secure vote,” Moncrieff said.

Aquino’s victory was declared in remarkably short order. In a country with 7000 islands, it used to take weeks to tally all the votes, but a new electronic voting system made his win apparent barely 16 hours after the polls closed. Aquino campaigned on pledges to investigate allegations of electoral fraud, corruption and rights abuses by the outgoing administration. He now says he will investigate his predecessor Arroyo for corruption. "We need to have closure on all items like the fertiliser scam. Who is responsible for this? Let's also look at the ZTE." In both cases, Arroyo has been associated with allegations of overpaying for deals and diversion of funds.

News of Aquino’s victory has buoyed international markets with Moody’s saying it sets a favourable tone for the country's credit fundamentals. Christian de Guzman, a Singapore-based Moody's assistant vice president and analyst, said Aquino’s comfortable win removed the undercurrents of political illegitimacy that had hampered Arroyo’s policy agenda. “The success of the first fully automated polls in Asia on Monday is at this time of greater relevance than the result itself, implying a strong mandate to govern for the victor," de Guzman said. Last year Moody’s upgraded the Philippines sovereign rating prompted by the country's strong external payments position and stability in the banking sector. They say these conditions will continue to provide support to the Philippines' rating over the next two years.

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