Third party replay
CANBERRA—The concept of a third party in the 2016 presidential election, to break the dominance of two main coalitions in this post-Edsa multiparty era, has regained currency with the emergence of at least five contenders for the presidency, some of them party-less or independent.
The issue came to a head following moves by senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero to run for either president or vice president on a not-yet-named political vehicle, nebulously tagged as a “third party” or “third force.” The ruling Liberal Party (LP) named Interior Secretary Mar Roxas its standard bearer in the May polls, after Vice President Jejomar Binay declared himself leader of the opposition and official presidential candidate of the United Nationalist Alliance.
The endorsement of Roxas by President Aquino as LP’s official candidate for president was hailed as the polarization of the elections along the lines of the administration’s and Binay’s, as well as a return to the two-party system that prevailed from the post-war years, after independence in 1946, up until its replacement by the multiparty system following the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in the 1986 People Power Revolution. In the light of the apparent polarization and attempts by party-less dark horses to escape the clutches of the dominant coalitions (i.e., of the administration and Binay’s), some observers view the Poe-Escudero “third force” as a viable alternative to the two major alignments.
Actually, what appears to some observers as a recycling of the third-party alternative that offers an escape from the clutches of the two dominant coalitions is nothing more than a symptom of the empirical reality that the electoral system is in a state of flux. The third party’s chances of winning are based on wishful thinking, if not marginal. At the rate the polarization is crystalizing, it is hard to make a case for third-party candidates to win in next year’s election.
This is particularly the case of the Poe-Escudero tandem—especially Poe who seems obstinately obsessed with the illusion that because of the survey showing her leading the voters preference for president, she can dictate the terms of her affiliation with the LP ticket, which has invited her to be the running mate of Roxas. Her determination to run together with Escudero, and no one else, is a demonstration of admirable loyalty; and, no doubt, her front-running position in the surveys is, indeed, phenomenal. But her compact with Escudero appears to be turning out to be a covenant for political suicide with epic melodramatic proportions.
Only recently, business magnate Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. and former senator Manuel Villar were considering forming a tactical alliance to support a Poe-Escudero ticket, which they reckon was the team to beat. Cojuangco heads the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and Villar is a pillar of the Nacionalista Party (NP), the oldest party in the country, founded by Commonwealth president Manuel Quezon.
The merger of support of these two parties is expected to enhance by a significant degree the political weight of whatever party Poe and Escudero would use as their vehicle to square off with LP. But the merger talks are still up in the air, and are too flimsy to depend on.
NPC has a wide political network with two senators, 47 representatives, 14 governors and 22 city mayors. NP has five senators, 20 representatives and seven governors. These numbers look impressive on paper. But according to NPC officials, Cojuangco still have to meet with them to come up with a party stand on whether to support President Aquino’s candidate.
But the talk about Cojuangco-Villar alliance came about before President Aquino endorsed Roxas. Both NPC and NP are strategic partners of the administration-led coalition in Congress, formed for the purpose of securing a majority in passing legislation. Now that the President has endorsed Roxas, the dynamic of the coalition has become even more fluid and unstable for electoral alliances.
According to NPC officials, their party was not in coalition with LP, but was in partnership only with President Aquino since 2013. They also claimed that most NPC members were inclined to support the tandem of Poe and Escudero, saying that their meeting this week “will see whether this will be confirmed or not, or the party will decide whether we support (national candidates) as a group or as individuals.”
The support of the NP for a Poe-Escudero run was even more uncertain. NP officials said the party was in a “wait and see” attitude on whether the President and LP were open to coalitions with other parties. The party would want to know what kind of partnership the President wanted with coalition partners, the platform of government and the positions LP would offer.
These developments offer only cold comfort for Poe and Escudero and undermine the prospects of a third force. These tell us that the ground is shifting underneath, and that the notion of third force has no legs to stand on.
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